I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the blog tour to celebrate the Ngaio Marsh Awards 2017 and even more excited when the book I was asked to review was one in the true crime genre, one that I have been exploring with a passion over the last few months.
David Hastings takes us back to 1880 New Zealand when a young woman, Mary Dobie was found lying dead under a flax bush near where she had been walking, possibly finding a place to sketch, as she was a talented artist one who had provided some illustrations for her brother’s book about ferns.
As I have found in so many books in this genre, the book doesn’t just focus on the investigation into the murder itself but explores the life of the victim, and her family who were on a three-year trip to New Zealand from England, and puts the death into the context of the social history and politics of the time and place, the latter I knew very little about.
Mary had travelled to New Zealand on a boat with her sister Bertha and her mother Ellen and we hear about the trip in part from the notebook that the two sisters wrote and drew in on the long trip. These entries are fascinating as neither sister behaves in quite the way we expect young Englishwomen to behave in the Victorian age. They were curious women, eager to learn about life and so on the ship they learnt about the sails and navigation from the crew crossing the social barriers normally in place. This was important in the context of the crime itself, not for the purpose of stating that Mary had put herself in the face of danger but more to give a real feel of the woman she was, outgoing and confident with a range of experiences that rival what most women of her generation would have experienced.
By the time of the murder Ellen and Mary were in Opunake on the Taranaki coast area to say goodbye to Bertha who had married during their extensive trip which also took in Samoa and Fiji. The Taranaki area was in a state of tension by this time, facts that David Hastings explains in detail and far more clearly than I can summarise here, between the settlers and the Maoris. The settlers had staked a claim to the land some twenty years previously but only more recently had started building roads carving up the area causing the Maoris to retaliate with their own non-violent protests. Both sides feared the next move the other may make and it was against this background that Mary was murdered. The timing of the murder was key and for a while it wasn’t clear whether the crime was committed by a Maori or a Pakeha let alone whether the motive was robbery, rape or a political act.
The author does a fabulous job of explaining all of the details of the political background, the characters of those involved and in the end taking us through the trial and the (mis)use that was made of Mary Dobie’s death after the event by those in power.
I read my copy of The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie in eBook format and would advise those of you who like the sound of this book to buy the physical copy as there are many wonderful pictures, those drawn by the Dobie sisters as well as some photographs which would be better seen alongside the text as unfortunately I have yet to master the flicking backwards and forwards to a satisfactory degree on my kindle.
I applaud the author for making the politics of the area so easily understood, and for bringing to life an unfamiliar region to his readers. This book held my attention throughout the voyage, the social history explored during the family’s travels and the trial itself. A very welcome addition to my true crime reading indeed.
First Published UK: 30 October 2015
Publisher: Auckland University Press
No of Pages: 240
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime Amazon UK Amazon US
Don’t miss out on the rest of the blog tour – there are some fantastic books, and blogs, to discover!
2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards Finalists
BEST CRIME NOVEL
• Pancake Money by Finn Bell
• Spare Me The Truth by CJ Carver (Zaffre)
• Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins)
• Marshall’s Law by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin)
• The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman (Allison & Busby)
BEST FIRST NOVEL
• Dead Lemons by Finn Bell
• Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins)
• The Ice Shroud by Gordon Ell (Bush Press)
• The Student Body by Simon Wyatt (Mary Egan Publishing)
• Days are Like Grass by Sue Younger (Eunoia Publishing)
BEST NON FICTION
• In Dark Places by Michael Bennett (Paul Little Books)
• The Scene of the Crime by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins)
• Double-Edged Sword by Simonne Butler with Andra Jenkin (Mary Egan Publishing)
• The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie by David Hastings (AUP)
• Blockbuster! by Lucy Sussex (Text Publishing)
I’ve got a real treat for you today because Caimh McDonnell is visiting to entertain us all with his guest post. I first hosted Caimh when he published his first novel, A Man With One of Those Faces and his very funny post won him many fans. Since then I’ve also read The Day That Never Comes, the second in the Dublin Trilogy and I was delighted to hear we were turning back the clock to 1999 in Angels in the Moonlight (the prequel) to meet Bunny as a younger man. Without any more ado, I well let Caimh entertain you…
The slacker’s guide to not looking like an idiot
I’ve a terrible confession to make; I am an absolute sucker for a blooper. It is to my eternal shame that I will sit through one of those awful shows entirely dedicated to pointing out things that are wrong in famous films. You know the ones, they spend an hour picking out continuity errors and historical inaccuracies that nobody in their right mind actually notices while watching in the cinema. Still, there’s something satisfying abo
ut seeing other people’s mistakes, whether it be Star Wars (stormtrooper walloping his head on a doorway), Braveheart (Scots wearing tartan 300 years before its conception) or Transformers (somebody actually making that god-awful cacophony of pointless metal punching mayhem).
Thing is though, when you become an author, you quickly realise that you’re the poor fool who has to make sure you’re not dropping clangers left, right and center. With that in mind, I humbly present to you my slacker’s guide to not making yourself look like an idiot:
1/ Avoid reality entirely
It’s not an option open to all of us, but where possible, try and find your version of ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ – that way, nobody can come back at you with unhelpful facts like how their Auntie Marge lives on the forest moon of Endor and according to her Ewoks are in fact tall, hairless creatures and not cute and cuddly teddy-bears that will sell really well as merchandise.
2/ Where possible, make your characters idiots
They always say to write what you know, so if you don’t know anything – write that. Where authors get into big trouble is giving their characters a level of expertise that they themselves do not possess. Don’t make your central character a forensic scientist just because you’ve watched two and a half episodes of CSI. Side note: I have actually met a bona fide forensic scientist and apparently, they do not solve all their cases through the use of musical montages. Turns out, you can’t believe everything you see on TV.
3/ Take the path less travelled:
The thing about setting your novel in 19th Century London is that absolutely loads of really clever people have done a ton of research into the minutiae of the life of an every day Londoner at that time. On one hand, that means that gives you a near limitless supply of source material to use for research. On the other hand, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to read a near limitless supply of source material, but it takes absolutely ages. My advice is to seek out the unpopular and undocumented; the dark ages are a cracking time, Belgium is an excellent place. Nobody knows or cares about either so you can get away with pretty much anything.
4/ The Future:
The great thing about the future, is that it hasn’t happened yet, which makes it very hard to get wrong. It should go without saying though, avoid that tricky beast known as ‘the near future’. The problem with that is, before you know it, it’s ‘now’ and then not long after, it’s ‘back then’. People get really angry when they don’t get the future that you promised them – I speak as a member of the ‘where the hell is my jetpack?!’ generation.
5/ Use your own past:
If you absolutely have to use the past, use a bit you lived through. I set my latest book in Dublin with the action taking place in 1999. The clever trick there is that I left Dublin in 2000. That way, all I have to do is remember what life was like before I moved abroad and I’ve got a reasonable chance of not screwing up. For example – mobile phones. I know back in 1999 we had them but they were fairly rare. That fact is burned into my memory as my boss gave me his so that I could be on-call while he and the wife went away for a ‘dirty weekend’(people still had dirty weekends in 1999 – even with people they were married to). I still vividly remember how I dropped his prized Nokia while running for a bus and then stood there helplessly as it spun on the ground, the bus hurtling towards it. Miraculously, both the phone and I survived this. Side note: his wife is a bona fide forensic scientist, small world.
So, while you can’t avoid being wrong entirely, you can at least try and make your mistakes look like deliberate artistic flourishes. Failing that, just have really big robots endlessly punch each other and readers will be far to engrossed in waiting for the sweet kiss of death, to notice how you’ve put airbags in a car that doesn’t have them. I hope this helped, although if it did, I think you might be in big trouble.
Caimh’s books are marketed as crime fiction combined with humour and this prequel to the first two books in the Dublin Trilogy is no different although I’d say that the humour element is targeted which suited the sadder elements of this book far better. Fear not though, I still laughed plenty of times at the brilliant scenarios and one-liners, even if a tear also managed to escape my beady eye once or twice.
Back in 1999 that comparatively near past, life was different. There were mobile phones but there were bigger worries about planes falling from the skies when the date clicked over into the millennium and Bunny is squeezing his too large body into his too small Porshe. In 1999 Bunny was working with his partner Gringo when they were tasked by DI Fintan O’ Rourke to stake out the local Mr Big who was in charge of the local estate. Bunny and Mr Big had history, in a good way, because Mr Big was rescued from a burning building as a child by Bunny, but times are a changing and with a number of raids on security vans and intelligence indicating a big diamond robbery is in the offing something has to be done.
The crime fiction element of this book felt tighter than in the other two books, perhaps because despite the fact that we have plenty of laughs from Bunny’s one-liners, there seemed to be less reliance on the humour with both elements truly complementing each other and Caimh’s skill as a writer becoming ever more apparent. The background of Dublin is ever-present with the scenes moving from the housing estate to rural outskirts of Dublin with just enough details to paint a picture.
In particular I loved the scenes with Bunny on the pitch with his hurling team who are based at St Judes – little Deccie stealing my heart with his adoration of his coach, if a little off-beam in his efforts to help
“You heard me, Deccie, didn’t I say to him before the match, just stay in the goal? How hard is that?” “He has no understanding of the nuances of the game boss.” “You’re not wrong, Deccie, you’re not wrong” “D’ye want me to tie his leg to one of the posts again, boss?” Bunny gave the child a look. “No, Deccie, remember we talked about this. Ye can’t do that.” “Yes, boss. Sorry, boss.”
With Gringo not only being Bunny’s working partner but also his best friend, we have the sad situation of his marriage falling apart and Gringo himself letting things slip just at the time when Bunny is making headway in his own personal life with a lovely girl called Simone. But this is crime fiction and it may be a while before we can skip to the happy ever after part.
So with a tight plot, a wide range of human emotions and some brilliant secondary characters which include nuns who you really want to meet – this book is, if anything even better than the previous two. By the end you’ll understand a little more about who Bunny really is and if you had doubted it before, that he’s a top bloke!
I’d like to say a big thank you to McFori Ink and Caimh McDonnell for allowing me to take part in this blog tour and for allowing me to read Angels in the Moonlight which made me both laugh and cry, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 26 August 2017
Publisher: McFori Ink
No. of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction Series Amazon UK Amazon US
About the Author
Caimh McDonnell is an award-winning stand-up comedian, author and writer of televisual treats. Born in Limerick and raised in Dublin, he has taken the hop across the water and now calls Manchester his home.
He is a man who wears many hats. As well as being an author, he is an award-winning writer for TV, a stand-up comedian and ‘the voice’ of London Irish rugby club. His debut novel, A Man with One of Those Faces was released in 2016 and it is the first book of the Dublin Trilogy series. The follow-up, The Day That Never Come was published in 2017. Both books are fast-paced crime thrillers set in Caimh’s home town of Dublin and they are laced with distinctly Irish acerbic wit.
Caimh’s TV writing credits include The Sarah Millican Television Programme, A League of Their Own, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You. He also works as a children’s TV writer and was BAFTA nominated for the animated series ‘Pet Squad’ which he created.
During his time on the British stand-up circuit, Caimh has firmly established himself as the white-haired Irishman whose name nobody can pronounce. He has brought the funny worldwide, doing stand-up tours of the Far East, the Middle East and Near East (Norwich).
‘They got the right matches. But did they get the right person?’
This summer Simon Booker is back. The prime-time TV murder mystery writer, with a voice that reads like ‘Val McDermid meets Stephen King’ (Hadley Freeman), returns withKill Me Twice, and we’d love for you to take part in the blog tour to launch this book.
Kill Me Twice finds investigative journalist Morgan Vine on the rise, her ‘one woman innocence project’ book become a bestseller, and she’s the go-to for everyone trying to overturn a wrongful conviction. But one of these cases catches her eye more than most…
Anjelica Fry is in prison for murdering her ex, Karl Savage, in an arson attack. Multiple forensic experts testified to finding his charred remains. Proving her innocence seems an impossible task. . It doesn’t matter that Karl was abusive. That Anjelica has a baby to care for. That she’s petrified of fire. The whole world knows Karl is dead.
Then he turns up outside Morgan’s window . . . A compulsively gripping thriller with a truly kick-ass female lead in Morgan Vine, Simon Booker turns up the heat in this follow up to his critically acclaimed debut Without Trace.
Sadly due to the sadness that has dominated this summer with both myself and my partner losing a parent in the space of two months, I haven’t managed to read Simon Booker’s second book featuring Morgan Vine yet but I do have a copy of Kill Me Twice sitting patiently on the bookshelf ready to read. This is a book I’m eager to get to after having enjoyed Without Trace so much and so I’m thrilled that Simon Booker has written a lovely post on the camaraderie in the crime writing community. This has just reaffirmed my vow that next summer I will manage to get to Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate!
The camaraderie of crime
Crime pays. Every crime writer knows that (although it’s true for some more than others.) But what every crime writer also knows is that we’re part of a writing community unlike any other. I’m writing this having just returned from the Theakston’s crime writing festival at Harrogate. Four days of panels, writers, readers, publishers, editors, publicists, bloggers and would-be writers, all spilling out of the Old Swan Hotel, onto the lawns, to gossip and chat, talk about books and catch up with old friends, as well as make new ones. I’ve been writing professionally for a bazillion years – TV drama, mainly, prime time murder mysteries for BBC and ITV, but now crime novels too – and I’ve never encountered such a mutually supportive group of creative people, all taking pleasure in each other’s company and sharing the rollercoaster ride of the publishing world. Of course there is a pecking order, and of course there are occasional squabbles and petty rivalries (and jealousy too – we’re only human FFS!) but there’s also a sense of camaraderie unrivalled in the world of books.
The cliché is that crime writers vent our everday frustrations on the page – killing off several people before breakfast – something that allows us to be ‘sunny’ in real life. Romance writers, meanwhile, are said to be filled with disappointment and disillusion, and not the kind of people you want to invite to the pub. As someone who has written rom-coms for US TV (one starring Anna Frield and Rob Lowe, and yes, his eyes really are that blue) I couldn’t possibly comment…
But I remember once attending a posh dinner of very grand Literary Types – more Booker winners than you could shake a stick at – and being painfully aware of how stilted the evening was, and of how everyone seemed to be trying to outfox and out-do each other, rather than enjoy each other’s company.
The same cannot be said of the crime-writing fraternity. Who’s that bloke in the silly hat, laughing with the woman in shorts? Oh, it’s Mark Billingham and Val McDermid. And that man over there, the one in shorts and shades, chatting with Ian Rankin? Oh, it’s Simon Kernick. I asked him if he’d like to read my new Morgan Vine thriller, KILL ME TWICE. He said yes, and a few weeks later offered a quote for the cover. ‘Simon Booker’s fast-paced, twisty thrillers are a must-read for anyone who loves a good page-turner’. Likewise Mark Billingham. ‘A cracking read.’ If that’s not solidarity – and generosity, and camaraderie – I don’t know what is.
If you’d like to read a FREE 25-page short story, in which Morgan Vine must outwit an escaped prisoner who takes her hostage in her isolated Dungeness shack, please go to simonbooker.com
Today I am delighted to be joined by crime fiction writer Chris Curran.
Chris has just written her third novel ‘Her Deadly Secret’ which will be released by Killer Reads (Harper Collins imprint) as an eBook on July 21st 2017 and paperback in August.
Chris kindly agreed to share some of her thoughts on crime fiction writing which I hope you will agree, make for fascinating reading.
Ideas And Where They Come From
I’m often asked where I get my story ideas. And it’s something I also ask myself when I’m between novels! The most obvious answer is that they can come from anywhere. News reports or articles, conversations, overheard comments, an intriguing photo, an atmospheric place – anything can spark the thought: I could use this in a story.
I write standalone crime and for me the starting point is always the main character. I ask myself: what is the most terrible thing that could happen to this person? This leads on to: what might make it even worse? In my first book, Mindsight, the main character, Clare, is a mother and losing a child is the nightmare of any parent. So that answers my first question. But for Clare the horror is intensified many times over because she believes she was responsible for her child’s death. In my second novel, Her Turn To Cry, the protagonist is a young girl who fears that her mother was murdered. And her nightmare is compounded when she begins to suspect that her own much-loved father was the killer.
In my books I explore how a crime, particularly a murder, damages all of those involved. So my novels feature characters dealing with the aftermath of a crime they are intimately connected with and trying to find what really happened. They are not detectives and, as amateurs, they don’t solve the crime so much as blunder their way to the truth (and as I develop the story it sometimes feels as if I am blundering along with them!).
My murderers are ordinary people who have committed the ultimate crime almost by accident and my protagonists often uncover things they would rather not know about those closest to them, or even about themselves. As I write I am discovering many of these details too.
Memory is something else that fascinates me and it’s been an important element in all my books so far. In each of my novels the past comes back to haunt the characters and to threaten the lives they have tried to rebuild. In Mindsight the protagonist has partial amnesia and in the following books the major characters also have a dodgy recall of crucial events. They can’t trust their own recollections and readers are advised not to trust them either! This is particularly true of my latest novel, Her Deadly Secret, where two families have been built on lies from years before.
There are times when I envy the authors of series. They already have some major elements in place, a ready-made set of characters and a regular setting. But I still prefer to write standalones because I like the freedom they give me to explore different times, locations and ways of life. The pharmaceutical industry, the music halls of the 1950s, the clubs frequented by the stars of swinging London, a semi-religious commune in the heart of Wiltshire and a little park in Chelsea with gravestones propped against its walls are just some places that have featured in my books so far.
And each one of them has been included because something sparked the thought: I can use this!
Chris Curran lives in St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex. Her first two psychological thrillers, Mindsight and Her Turn To Cry, were both Amazon bestsellers. She also writes short stories one of which was recently shortlisted for the 2017 CWA Margery Allingham award. Her latest novel, Her Deadly Secret, is published as an eBook on July 21st 2017 and a paperback in August.
A FAMILY BUILT ON LIES…
A dark and twisty psychological thriller, in which a young girl is abducted and her family is confronted with a horror from deep in their past.
A young girl has been taken. Abducted, never to be seen again.
Joe and Hannah, her traumatized parents, are consumed by grief. But all is not as it seems behind the curtains of their suburban home.
Loretta, the Family Liaison Officer, is sure Hannah is hiding something – a dark and twisted secret from deep in her past.
This terrible memory could be the key to the murder of another girl fifteen years ago. And as links between the two victims emerge, Joe and Hannah learn that in a family built on lies, the truth can destroy everything…
I’m delighted to be on the blog tour for Nemesister and especially thrilled that Sophie agreed to write a piece especially for my blog, one that I hope you find as fascinating as I have. So without further ado, I’ll hand over to Sophie.
Thriller writing – why Isolation is essential
At some point, every thriller writer will need to isolate their protagonist. The reasons for this are two fold – an isolated person has no one to ask for help and so has to fall back on their own devices and b) otherwise the book will probably end too quickly. As social animals, one of this things we fear most of is being alone, especially when we’re in trouble. For most of us being alone is unsettling at best, terrifying at worst, and people who crave isolation and separation are viewed with a mix of awe and distrust. As a writer, you have to think where your character might have to go to end up alone, and how sensibly they’re able to get there without it looking like a massively clumsy plot-device.
“Why goodness me,’ said John, ‘I never thought I’d actually win the all expenses paid solo trip to the Canadian Rockies, without an escort or working phone, but now I have I can’t wait to get there, even though my psychotic ex-girlfriend and ace mountaineer is still stalking me – ‘ yeah, you have to be a bit more subtle than that!
Mobile phones might be seen as a curse when trying to isolate your protagonist, but they’re actually a blessing – we’re so used to them, that when they don’t work we’re all the more vulnerable simple because we don’t make other provisions and so panic. In the old day of Nokia, they would last for days without a re-charge, which meant looking at more permanent ways to disable them – ‘Oh no,’ said John, ‘That elephant has just sat on my Nokia, I should never have left it there!’ but now, thanks to the myriad of functions on a smart phone, they only have to be a few hours from a charger and a few miles from a phone mast, and they’ve cut you off as completely as a blizzard in the olden days. I have a part in a current work in progress, where my main character finds her phone has died and, like so many of us, as she’s never bothered with a landline, as who uses them these days? – she’s suddenly as alone in a London flat over a desolate garage as she might be in a distant forest.
Once your main character is alone, they become dependant on your their own resources, which gives the reader a chance to see what they’re really made of. It’s then that you really need to know your characters, better than they know each other, so that the surprises they pull ring true. This joke encapsulates it perfectly – two friends meet a bear in the woods; one stands still in shock, the other begins to frantically change into his running shoes.
‘You can’t out run a bear!’ the first friend says desperately.
‘I know, but I can out run you,’ says the second
This is very much encapsulates the point – you might find that although your main character sounds vulnerable on paper, when it comes to it they may well be as ruthless as any criminal, and as a writer, you need to know why and what that means. Some of the best thriller writing is when the hunted becomes the hunter.
Isolation doesn’t have to be geographical; often psychological isolation is the most powerful, and the sort we fear the most as it can happen in our own heads without needing an exotic location or plot devices. You can be isolated in a crowd, if the crowd is against you – think of ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’ where the ‘free’ humans have to walk through a crowd of possessed ones and not give themselves away, knowing a single slip up and everyone will turn against them. If your character is being framed for a crime they didn’t commit, they cannot risk calling the police, or if they’ve been mis-treated by them in the past they may simply not trust them. In so many thrillers, the plot would fall apart in an heartbeat if the main character dialled 999, so you have to have a rock solid reason for them not to do so – which again comes right back to who they are, or character. Most regular people if approached by an enemy, or chased by gangsters, would go for help from those around them, so you need to know why your character will not or cannot do that. I am often to be found shouting at psychological thrillers ‘ring the police – ring the police!’ because the author hasn’t convinced me that this isn’t a sensible option, even if it might have more consequences than just a lengthy explanation, and yet it can be such a simple thing to get right. If you know your character, if you really understand them, you should know why they can’t ring the police, and that should inform everything they do.
So when it comes down to it, like with all good writing, the best kind of Thrillers thrive on the same thing as any writing – know your characters. From character comes plot, from plot comes the novel, and it’s the flaws, weaknesses and fears of your characters which will make the novel memorable.
And lets hope smart phone batteries don’t get better!
Thank you so much Sophie for visiting Cleopatra Loves Books and thank you all for reading, don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Nemesister Blog Tour
An American Gothic thriller of deception and obsession, slicked in sweat and set in the swamps of Louisiana.
It’s a psychological mystery where the female protagonist stumbles into a deserted shack with no memory but a gun in her hand. There she meets an apparent stranger, Red, and the two find themselves isolated and under attack from unseen assailants.
Barricaded inside for a sweltering night, cabin fever sets in and brings her flashes of insight which might be memory or vision as the swamp sighs and moans around her.
Exploring in the dark she finds hidden keys that seem to reveal her identity and that of her mysterious host, but which are the more dangerous – the lies he’s told her, or the ones she’s told herself? Amazon
I am particularly delighted to be part of the blog tour for Need You Dead which is the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James because this is a series I’ve followed from the very beginning, reading each book in order eager to find out what has happened to my favourite characters whilst knowing that there will be a cracking crime story to keep me entertained.
Today Peter James is sharing some of his research with us:
DS Roy Grace Blog Tour – Day 7 Research behind Dead Man’s Grip
While researching Dead Man’s Grip I was taken around the famous local landmark that is Shoreham Power station. Along with being claustrophobic I have always had an absolute terror of heights, so the research for a key scene in the book, involving a secret tunnel under Shoreham Harbour, where I would be making a 180 feet vertical descent down a ladder in a shaft, was horrifying! A major “oh shit” moment! Fortunately I had two very delightful and caring helpers from Rescue & Emergency Medical Services Ltd who gave me the confidence and help to do it.
Then at the launch of Dead Man’s Grip I was submerged in a van in Shoreham Harbour for a stunt enacting a key scene in the book. I was nervous as hell before this event and I had the whole police dive team prepped to rescue me in case it went wrong!
Peter James has kindly provided original pieces for each day of his blog tour so make sure you catch the rest of the stops!
Lorna Belling has been found dead in a bath tub in a rented flat in Brighton. Already known to the police because she’s reported her husband for domestic abuse Roy Grace sees the investigation as a good one for Guy Batchelor to be Deputy Senior Investigating Officer for a couple of reasons: one to allow him to learn the ropes and secondly because Roy has to fly to Germany to pick up his son Bruno to bring him back for the funeral of his mother.
Lorna is a hairdresser who works from home, her phone is monitored by her husband and there has been more than one nasty incident with her husband Corin who works for an IT company, but the last attack was particularly nasty. The Domestic Violence caseworker is concerned for Lorna’s safety but so far Lorna has decided to stay put with Corin and the puppies she has bred. But the flat where Lorna was found dead wasn’t her home, so why is she in a cheap rental flat with dodgy electrics?
Of course the investigation isn’t quite as straightforward as first appearances indicated and the reader is in on the action seeing the red-herrings being liberally scattered across Brighton to ensure that the Police are following entirely the wrong scent. In a bold move by the author we even know why the only link missing is who it could be. It goes to show how in experienced hands a small amount of mystery is all that is needed with this book not lacking at all in tension as the team set out to find the killer – or perhaps Lorna committed suicide after all?
There are a number of strands to be pursued by the team and all of them have a good collection of well-drawn characters to keep us fully entertained as they do so!
It is almost refreshing these days to have modern crime fiction told in a straightforward time-line and here we have the chapters headed up by the days of the week starting from the beginning and working to the end – how clever is that? Because there is so much going on there are several chapters for each day, with each looking from a different point of view and in the case of Roy Grace, some are from a different country.
As with the entire series I get as much enjoyment in meeting up with the large and varied cast of characters, particularly with the established team of police, with the author reflecting their most immediate concerns using his extensive contacts with the real crime fighters in Brighton’s Police Force to ensure all the details are bang up to date. A small word of caution, Mr James, please don’t turn Roy Grace into a political figurehead for the Police however much your sources urge you to, less is more as they say!
As always this latest Roy Grace story had me thoroughly entertained. I can also spy some interesting threads which I’m sure we will follow for a few books yet in Roy’s personal life as Bruno settles into life as a big brother to baby Noah and so as always, no sooner did I put the book down, I was eager to have the next instalment from Brighton and Hove.
I am extremely grateful to Macmillan and Midas PR for providing me with a review copy of this book, and for allowing me to be part of this blog tour – the pinnacle of my blogging ambitions! My review of course is unbiased.
First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 432
Genre:Crime Fiction – Crime Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Computer hacking isn’t a subject I’d normally be drawn to as anything IT related is a turn-off as far as I’m concerned, but as I’d heard such good things about this author and having no hope of catching up on the previous seven books in the series, Want You Gone was where I started, and I was totally drawn into the world of internet chat rooms with anonymous men ‘there are no women on the internet’ conspiring to all sorts of three-letter acronyms.
Sam Morpeth is struggling, she’s at college but in charge of her disabled younger sister, Lily, as her mother is in prison. Sam is a loner, she doesn’t fit in at school, and she’s struggling to pay the bills. Sam decides she has no option but to take a part-time job in a sandwich shop, but then she attracts the wrong kind of attention. Added to all of that she’s sure that her mother is keeping secrets from her.
Jack Parlabane is kicking off the traces to whatever trouble he’d been in which something to do with the hacking scandal, and he’s found employment as a journalist on a new paper, Broadwave. He’s determined not to mess up again especially as he’s enjoying the opportunity to do more in-depth reporting and his links to a hacker give him an in on a recent security breach by the hackers at a major bank. With the police looking for the perpetrators and the bank severely embarrassed will Jack be able to uncover the truth?
If I’m reading contemporary crime fiction, I like the themes to be current and thought-provoking and Chris Brookmyre carries off this brief off with alacrity. Obviously the internet has been part of our lives for long enough for it to be hard to remember what life was like before it, but the telephone hacking scandal is recent enough for the repercussions still making their mark and I suspect most journalists work in a more circumspect way then they did before the Leveson inquiry. All of this is well-reflected in the storyline without the reader feeling hammered over the head, there simply isn’t time as the plot moves along at a fair old pace, with twists and turns, all aided and abetted by the shadowy nature of the characters. In another novel all the cloak and dagger might seem all too convenient whereas it fits perfectly with the themes that underpin this compelling read.
There is masses of action in Want You Gone and despite the technical aspects of this book, it never felt burdensome and everything was clearly explained in words that this technophobe could understand. I liked the interaction between Sam and Jack, there comes a point where despite neither trusting, nor liking, the other, they had to work together for a common aim. A tough piece of character conflict to pull off at the best of times, but in the midst of a fast and furious storyline where believability becomes crucial, on reflection I realised the importance of this outstanding piece of writing.
I started this review by stating that I’d become aware of this author through other bloggers and decided that I couldn’t possibly catch up on the series which is why I took the plunge at book eight. I now revise that opinion, I will be seeking out the previous books and whilst it is unrealistic to imagine that I will read them all before the publication of book nine, I need to know more about Jack’s life before it became entangled with Sam’s.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Little Brown Books who allowed me to read an ARC of Want You Gone. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the talented author, Chris Brookmyre.
First Published UK: 20 April 2017
Publisher: Little Brown Books
No of Pages: 432
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
When I sat down to start The Chemistry of Death, my first novel to feature British forensic anthropologist David Hunter, it wasn’t with the intention of writing a series. Back then my main concern was writing a good, scary thriller that people would enjoy, and that had a decent chance of attracting a publisher. I didn’t give much thought to anything beyond that.
It was only later, when I realised there was enthusiasm for more books about the same character, that I began to think seriously about a sequel. Sequels, in fact. Of course, that’s a fantastic position for a writer to find themselves in. At the same time, it’s a very different situation to writing a stand-alone novel, where the story and characters conclude on the final page.
‘You’ve already got the main character, all you have to do is write another story about him,’ a friend of mine commented when I was worrying over the follow-up. ‘How hard can it be?’ Fair point. But just because you’ve managed to bottle lightning once doesn’t mean it’s easy to do again. In fact, thinking that way is a good way of falling flat on your face.
One of the difficulties of any series is retaining those elements that made the first book a success, while still keeping the stories and characters fresh. And the longer the series goes on, the harder it is to prevent the laws of diminishing returns from creeping in. That killer plot twist you dreamed up in book two, for instance, might have had you punching the air at the time. But how do you top it in book three? Let alone books four or five?
The answer is that you probably can’t. At least not in the same way, and it would be a mistake to try. If each book in a series follows exactly the same formula, then you’ll quickly become bored by writing it. And if that happens it’s a safe bet your readers will feel the same way.
Every author has their own way of dealing with this. Mine was to take my lead from real-life forensic anthropologists; specialists in badly decomposed or damaged human remains, who are called out to crime scenes across the UK. It allows me to place David Hunter in a different location for each novel, with a mostly new set of characters to interact with. That gives the individual books their own distinct identity, and helps keeps the series from becoming stale. For me as well as – I hope – the reader.
Of course, it can also bring its own set of problems, not least a sense of having the re-invent the wheel from scratch each time. But no one ever said writing was easy. That much holds true whether it’s a series or a stand-alone you’re writing.
I’ve recently re-discovered the thrill of the slower psychological suspense books where the thrills are gained from understanding a character rather than focussing on twists and turns. There is of course a place for both types of books, not least on my own bookshelf, but I think the former leaves a longer lasting impression than the latter where the enjoyment is often in the thrill of the ride. The Housekeeper was one of those books that crept up on me through Anne’s eyes.
Anne Morgan has just been dumped by her boyfriend, a charismatic chef, worse still he was her boss. After doing the requisite moping around, resisting her friend’s attempts to get her back in the kitchen, she has an epiphany. For weeks she has been following Emma Helmsley, a lifestyle blogger and her daily tips have motivated Anne almost as much as she has spent her adulthood referencing Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management and the solution seems simple, she will become Emma Helmsley’s housekeeper.
Now I don’t know about you but I feel somewhat queasy about someone poking around in my drawers and I’m no lifestyle blogger holding myself up as the perfect organiser, but Emma is in dire need of help. The rather disorganised household consists of herself, her husband Rob an academic who is in the midst of writing a book about a pioneer psychologist, and their teenage children, Lily and Jake.
Anne has her work cut out for her, there is plenty of clutter to sort out in the house and as we all know, no sooner is one mess sorted out than another appears but she’s enjoying the slower pace, no more fifteen hour days in a busy kitchen. It doesn’t take long for the façade the couple present as they network their way around London to be revealed for something else entirely.
The Housekeeper had me gripped because of the characters; I was fascinated by Anne’s choices and although they wouldn’t have been mine her background made them entirely plausible. As for the family… well all four were equally fascinating although Emma was more frequently in the picture than the others. A special shout-out has to go to the friend Julie who was that voice of reason often lacking in psychological fiction but will her voice be loud enough?
The whole book was written assuredly, the author really making her mark by painting a picture of the house itself, Anne’s flat and the more mundane bus rides home at night, bringing to life the minutia of a young woman’s life while keeping the pace absolutely steady thereby avoiding that deadly speeding up and slowing down jerkiness. The steady pace also allowed me to absorb the excerpts that headed up each chapter which changed from Mrs Beeton’s household tips, to Emma’s motivational statement to parts from Rob’s book about the pioneer psychologist who treated those with disorders outside the more traditional hospital environment.
I’m not going to give any more of the plot away but suffice to say there is an interesting look at a subject that isn’t often tackled and refreshingly it was done without the usual hullabaloo. The Housekeeper’s very strength the almost reserved way that the truth is revealed and interestingly it isn’t all focussed on one character alone.
This book made for a totally satisfying weekend read, with plenty to ponder and wonder about when I wasn’t salivating over the descriptions of the food, maybe a housekeeper would be nice after all!
I’d like to say an enormous thank you to Eve at Midas PR for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and Suellen Dainty for introducing me to the world of household management!
First Published UK: 28 February 2017
Publisher: Washington Square Press
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Psychological Suspense Amazon UK Amazon US
On 9 March 2017 Lie In Wait by G.J. Minett is being published as a paperback and looking inside the front cover I can see that I’m not the only reader to heap praise on this novel
So I was thrilled to be asked to kick off the blog tour to celebrate the paperback publication especially as the author was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule, which includes submitting book three to the publishers, to write this exclusive post about writing characters!
All authors have to choose a starting point that works for them and for me it’s the central character. That doesn’t mean to say that potential plots don’t occur to me from time to time – they do, and I tend to shut them away for future reference because until I have a character I want to work with, there is no story to tell. Once I do, I can then look for that character’s Achilles heel and choose a situation that is going to test her/him to the limit. But it’s character first.
In The Hidden Legacy, Ellen sprang out of an exercise we did for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. We were given a comprehensive checklist which we had to use to ask our character questions ranging from which newspaper she read to what her deepest fear would be. I took ages over fleshing her out and carried her around with me for months, even asking myself how she would react to news items on TV. Not far off schizophrenic maybe but very useful for getting to know your character.
In Lie In Wait Owen was a composite of a handful of children I’ve taught over the years who seem to have the words ‘natural victim’ stamped into their psyche. Very often they are different but they are made more so by the reaction of those around them who exclude them from everything.
Writing is not just about central characters though and I’ve come up with three tips which work for me when developing the cast of supporting actors who help to bring the novel to life. In no particular order they are:
• Avoid extremes if possible. Not many people are without flaws and no one I’ve met is entirely without redeeming features. Try to make sure you throw in a few little surprises which show a different side to your characters or there’s a danger they’ll be too wooden and stereotypical to be interesting. It’s always better to challenge the reader’s expectations.
• Get the dialogue right. We all speak slightly differently from each other with a variety of hesitations, digressions, favourite expressions that, you know, we seem to kind of throw in every other sentence . . . basically. Know what I mean? Listen to people around you, borrow extensively from them. In an ideal world, it should be possible for a reader to listen to a dozen or so examples of speech from one character in your novel and know exactly who it is without being told. And the listening part is important too – try taping an extended piece of dialogue you’ve created and playing it back to see what it sounds like. If it clunks, change it.
• Test your characters. You won’t want (or have time) to do this with all of them but with half a dozen or so who appear relatively frequently, try to come up with a situation which will put them under pressure and bring out a different side to them. Characters when pressurised behave in ways that surprise us and readers tend to like being caught on the hop. At any social gathering, I don’t suppose I’m very different from anyone else in seeking out the individuals who are interesting, entertaining and informative and readers are the same. If we can make a character that little bit more interesting, we’re winning the battle for the their attention.
I did say these work for me. It doesn’t mean they will for everyone but if there’s even one small suggestion there that helps, I’ll be delighted.
Many thanks to Cleo as usual for the opportunity.
Thank you Graham, and one of the things I’ve loved most about both books is how realistic the characters are, for me it is the mixture of redeeming, and not so redeeming qualities which tends to convince me but I can see that by employing all of those tips, there is nothing to doubt about how life-like a character is.
G.J. Minett’s first book A Hidden Legacy was published by Twenty7 Books then a new imprint of Bonnier Publishing, specialising in debut fiction from every genre. They are incredibly passionate about supporting the best new authors and finding innovative ways of bringing their books to readers across the world.
Lie In Wait has been published by Bonnier and has already amassed an impressive quantity of five star reviews on Amazon.
You can visit Graham’s author page on Facebook at G.J.Minett author or on Twitter @GJMinett
Lie in Wait
A man is dead. A woman is missing. And the police have already found their prime suspect…
Owen Hall drives into a petrol station to let his passenger use the facilities. She never comes back – and what’s more, it seems she never even made it inside.
When Owen raises a fuss, the police are called – and soon identify Owen himself as a possible culprit – not least because they already have him in the frame for another more sinister crime.
Owen’s always been a little different, and before long others in the community are baying for his blood. But this is a case where nothing is as it seems – least of all Owen Hall…
A dark, addictive thriller, ingeniously plotted with a twist that will make you gasp, LIE IN WAIT is perfect for readers of Angela Marsons or Rachel Abbott. Amazon