This is the third of the Lake District Mysteries and for once I am working my way through in strict order, something I’m glad I chose to do as the back story of how historian Daniel Kind left his teaching post at Oxford and his television career to live in a cottage there, while not key to the individual mysteries themselves, does of course work better when you the story arc plays out in the correct order.
I have to mention how thrilled I was to open the book to two family trees one for the Clough family and one for the Ichmore family. I love touches like this in books and although the significance of these families isn’t apparent for a while, once it was you can be sure I turned back to the beginning to acquaint myself with the details. After that we have an excerpt from a journal – something neither the police or Daniel have seen. Don’t you just love that feeling that we know something the investigators don’t?
Chillingly the journal starts with the words:
You’d never know it to look at me now, but once upon a time I killed a man.
So on to the mystery which starts with DCI Hannah Scarlett opening an old case file because local journalist Tony di Venuto, chooses the tenth anniversary to campaign for an investigation into the disappearance of Emma Beswick. For publicity reasons it seems like a good time to re-evaluate what Cumbria’s Cold Case Review Team know, and where they should look to see if any new information comes to light. This is a case that DI Hannah Scarlett knows well, she was part of the original investigation team working for Daniel’s father.
Along the way she visits the Museum of Myth and Legend run by local man Alban Clough and managed by his daughter Alexandra because Emma used to work there, and she had a relationship with Alexandra. What she learns isn’t so much about Emma though, but about the local folklore and the arsenic labyrinth, set in a remote spot of the lakes.
Part of what I love about this series is the well-researched information that that the author carefully weaves into the storyline. Nothing as clumsy as an information drop for this accomplished author, rather key information in direct relation to the mystery which is fascinating.
With the professional detective and an amateur side-kick both involved in the investigation, although not in any formal way, the reader is offered an insight into the different ways key bits of information can be found, and used to unravel the different questions that need answers. For light relief we watch a con-artist weave his artful magic on an unsuspecting, desperate and gullible B&B Landlady to get a more comfortable bed for a few nights.
For a book that I would classify as at the more comfortable end of crime fiction it is jam-packed with literary references, historical information, an ancient feud and of course a solid mystery. Because there are so many strands to these books it can seem as though it takes longer to get to the heart of the puzzle than you expect but it really is well worth the wait.
This series really is a satisfying read, a beautiful location bought to life against the backdrop of the flip-side which investigates the darker side of human nature. It certainly won’t be long before I read the next in the series, The Serpent Pool.
This is the 16th book I’ve read and reviewed as part of my Mount TBR Challenge for 2018. I am aiming to read 36 books across the year from those purchased before 1 January 2018. The Arsenic Labyrinth was purchased on 6 November 2017 thereby qualifying.
First Published UK: 2007
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 305
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Well Roy Grace is back for the fourteenth time in Dead If You Don’t which in short is an action packed police procedural that shouldn’t be missed.
I am a huge fan of this series and always look forward to the next book more or less from the time I close the last page and so it may surprise you to hear I had a moment of disquiet when I realised the opening scenes featured a Kip Brown and his teenaged son, Mungo, going to a big game at the Amex Stadium. OK I got that it was an important match with the locals Brighton and Hove Albion against Manchester City no less but I’m no fan of football and out of all crime fiction storylines, bombs rank bottom of the pile. The Head of Security had been warned that a bomb was going to be left in the Amex stadium unless a payment in bitcoin was made before kick-off. Oh dear, was this going to be the one novel in this series I didn’t enjoy because of my dislike of the combination of football and bombs? No, of course it wasn’t because Dead If You Don’t isn’t just about bombs and football, that was just setting the scene for something far more complex.
We have big businessmen, near bankruptcy a bunch of criminals to keep everything spicy and Roy Grace at the match with his son Bruno. Glenn Branson is with security at the stadium keeping an eye out for the promised bomb and then it all kicks off aside from the football!
As always Peter James keeps things real with his thorough research with the police giving this series a real air of authenticity whilst still ensuring that the storytelling isn’t overwhelmed with procedures and policies. I love the team, Norman Potting is still his un-PC self although more subdued than he was at his most annoying. Glenn has also overcome many of his personal problems and is reaching for the next rung on the career ladder but there is little time for the personalities to go wild in this book because Roy Grace is busy co-ordinating a missing boy, a bomb scare, a dead drugs mule and a dismembered body. Quite a lot to take on in a weekend! Dead If You Don’t is almost wall-to-wall action so although we get snippets about Roy’s wife Cleo and his sons Bruno and Noah they are very much in the background, unlike some of the previous books.
This is a scary ride of a book indeed, nearly as scary as Norman Potting’s erratic driving as they race to a potential scene of a crime. It’s a measure of the skill of the writing that I felt I was alongside poor Roy Grace as he urged Norman to go faster than a snail’s pace only to nearly be swung into the path of a van when he complied.
I’m not going to say any more – this was just as good as all the previous books in the series, if anything it felt more action packed with the switch of focus from the police and their families to the criminals and their nastiness and seeming complete lack of morality. And the ending is fantastic – a little bit of a moral to round the whole shebang off!
I’d like to say thank you to Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of Dead If You Don’t before publication today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the talented author Peter James. Roll on episode 15!
First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 400
Genre:Crime Fiction – Crime Series Amazon UK Amazon US
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of this author’s work in which she invariably manages to lace her crime novels with a sense of humour. Belinda Bauer above all has an exceptional ability to capture her characters on the page and none more so than when the character is a child. This is in contrast to so many other writers who often appear to use their child characters as a device and somehow make them either bland or annoying, but somehow not quite real. Not so in this novel.
Three children, eleven-year old Jack, nine-year old Joy and two-year old Merry are left on the hard shoulder of the motorway while their pregnant mother walks to the phone box to get help when their car breaks down. The sun is shining on this August day in 1998:
It was so hot in the car that the seats smelled as though they were melting. Jack was in shorts, and every time he moved his legs they sounded like sellotape.
Yes, we’ve all had that experience in a hot car but unlike these poor children our mothers didn’t walk into the distance never to return.
The story then jumps forward three years to Catherine While’s house, her husband Adam is away, she’s heavily pregnant and thinks she can hear someone in the house.
When you lived alone, and you heard a noise in the night, you didn’t cower under the bedclothes and wait for your fate to saunter up the stairs and down the hallway. When you lived alone, you got up and grabbed the torch, the bat, the hairspray and you sneaked downstairs to confront… The dishwasher.
This time though, it wasn’t the dishwasher.
When she returns to bed, there is a knife and a note by the side of her bed, that wasn’t there before.
The reader follows Jack’s struggle following his mother’s disappearance as well as observing what Catherine does following the intruder to her house, and not all of her actions are wise ones!
And then we have a Detective Inspector John Marvel who has been sent to Somerset away from his beloved London following a transgression and he’s assigned to the Goldilocks case; a burglar who breaks into people’s houses and sleeps in their beds before making off with their belongings. His team consists of DC Parrott and DS Reynolds and three make a hilarious trio as they try to catch their man.
So lots going on and yet all so enticing. There wasn’t a page that didn’t delight me with vignettes of observation that really hit the mark:
Angry embers spat and popped inside him. The papers always called her ‘mum-to-be’. But she was a mum-who-already-was. Everyone had forgotten him and Joy and Merry.
Friday night and Catherine’s risotto was a triumph. All she’d done was stand and stir it while The Archers was on, but Jan went on and on about it as I she’d spit-roasted a unicorn.
The star of this show though is Jack, his resilience alone is amazing, and it is precisely because we see the cracks in his armour that I couldn’t help but fall in love with him.
A read that I have to admit is a tad quirky for a crime novel, a book that will truly entertain you while the darkness of murder lurks. It is so refreshing to read something that is differs in style within this, my favourite genre.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers by way of this unbiased review for allowing me to read a copy of Snap, prior to the publication in eBook format today, 3 May 2018. For those of you who want the print version it is following on 17 May 2018.
First Published UK: 3 May 2018
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Oh my! What a brilliant read! This has to be one of the scariest books I’ve read in a long while and yet there a few graphic scenes, what the author does is get into your mind and play with it.
Brilliantly the opening to this book is an author’s message to her readers – a lovely touch, which ends with these words: The Craftsman is the story of women, and witches. Of the children we love and must protect. And of the men who fear us.
The Craftsman is mainly set right in 1969 when our protagonist WPC Florence Lovelady is visiting the mother of a missing girl of fifteen in the town of Sabden which lies in the shadow of Pendle Hill in the North-West of England. Florence is a strong, educated woman in what was back then, very much a man’s world. At the time we meet her as a young officer she is tagging along with the higher ranking Detective Constable Tom Devine as the superintendent thought a woman officer was a nice touch.
Now every good witch knows and consequently fears, Pendle in Lancashire which was where a number of witches were tried for witchcraft back in 1612. All admittedly a long time ago, but the history just adds to the superstitious small town community of Sabden which is coping with young people going missing gives legs to rumours and supposition. What this brilliant novel illustrates is how the charge of being a witch could all too easily be levelled against a woman, especially when a whole community feels as though nothing is going right, and what is going wrong is almost inconceivable.
I’m not revealing anything the synopsis doesn’t to say that teens were being buried alive in caskets, and nor I imagine do I have then have to explain quite how terrifying this book is. The setting of 1969, an age of comparative innocence, a fresh-faced, if far more intelligent than her superiors are prepared to admit, WPC it seems even more horrific that the murders are not only unusual, but particularly horrific.
Anyway good old Florence is determined to catch the perpetrator and thirty years later we meet her at the graveside of Larry Glassbrook a coffin maker. A man who has been imprisoned for the last thirty years. A man who Florence has visited over the years whilst she was climbing the slippery pole towards the glass ceiling. But, the case from the past is far from over and Florence is drawn back to the beginning of her career.
This novel is cleverly plotted with the parallels between the witches of the past and the present day happenings inevitably drawn, so subtlety and yet so powerful. I loved Florence and was rooting through her both in 1969 and 1999 her character clearly having developed in the intervening thirty years but her drive undiminished. Once again Sharon Bolton has created memorable and lifelike characters to populate one of the creepiest reads of the year. I strongly predict this book making it easily into the top ten reads of the year! Yes – I’m telling you all, you need to read this one, if you dare…
Sharon Bolton is so talented and as much as I loved her Lacey Flint series I have to confess I’ve loved her stand-alone novels even more, if that’s at all possible– you can take your pick from these as they are all shocking, gripping and oh so inventive.
I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Trapeze who allowed me to read an advance review copy of The Craftsman and to Sharon Bolton for keeping me up all night and caused my dreams in the nights since I read it to be filled with coffins and witches! This unbiased review is my thanks to them.
First Published UK: 3 May 2018
No of Pages: 432
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
David Jackson’s series featuring DS Nathan Cody is on my ‘must-read’ list and I was suitably thrilled to hear that he was making his third appearance on 3 May 2018.
This is one creepy book, no need for gruesome scenes for this author, instead he lets you imagine the worst from his well-chosen words.
A young girl, a mere six years of age, has disappeared from her bed and Nathan Cody is investigating. This investigation is high profile, no one wants to think that there is a child snatcher in the neighbourhood and yet it seems like whoever took Poppy was invisible as there is no trace. Yes no clues to follow and that means that Cody has to painstakingly follow a number of different theories simultaneously to see which one holds water.
We meet Poppy’s parents, Craig and Maria in the wake of her disappearance and we have Cody, DC Meghan Webley, FLO, Jason Oxburgh and data expert Grace Meade amongst others who under the tough leadership of DCI Stella Blunt of Liverpool’s police. We also have ten year old Daisy living with her parents Malcolm and Harriet, home-schooled she is a little lonely and has that peculiar manner of children who spend all their time in the company of adults. All these characters are acutely drawn with everyday events underscored by a level of tension that you simply won’t believe until you read this book for yourself. Never in my life have I had to hold my breath while reading about a game of darts!
Although this is one of my favourite genres, a good solid police procedural there is a strong element of the psychological woven through the storyline. As we observe the different relationships I found I was in on the action trying to work out why some were behaving the way they were, for instance, in the all too familiar media interview I felt I was on the other side of the camera, alongside the police watching and waiting for a sentence that would provide a key to unlocking at least something vaguely useful to explaining what had happened. Because the reader knows more than the police, a dicey device in any but the most assured writer’s keyboard, you’d expect the tension levels to be lower. Not so, I could feel my heart racing at far too many parts of this book to mention. I needed it all resolved, and as the levels increase unrelentingly until the truly outstanding ending. This book should come with a free ECG to make sure your heart is up to reading it!
I’m sure this would read very well as a standalone but I don’t recommend it. A Tapping at my Door, the first in the series, is one of my favourite crime books of all time, and the second, Hope to Die gives us more insight into Nathan Cody as well as being another full-on read so you’ll be missing out if you can’t wait and chose to start with this book but I’m almost certain you’ll need to pick up the previous two if you can’t wait.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for allowing me to read a copy of Don’t Make a Sound ahead of publication on 3 May 2018. Thank you also to David Jackson for giving my heart a workout, I can’t wait to see what will happen next. This is an unbiased review written by Cleopatra Loves Books.
First Published UK: 3 May 2018
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
o of Pages: 3528
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Detective Kim Stone is on her seventh outing in this up to the minute series by author Angela Marsons.
Broken Bones opens at Christmas time with an abandoned baby outside the police station. The infant is well dressed three month old and has clearly been cared for, so why has it been left on a cold winter’s night? Kim Stone is at a complete loss what to do with the small infant but fortunately others within the station have a few more nurturing instincts than Kim and the baby is looked after while they wait for social services to take ownership. The same night the body of a murdered prostitute is found and an investigation launched to find the perpetrator.
Angela Marsons has a knack of simplifying what is actually two simultaneous complex investigations making this book immensely readable and providing that ‘I must just read one more chapter feeling’ with ease. As expected there are a fair few red herrings with a large cast of characters to keep the reader entertained as we follow Kim down some blind alleys.
In many book reviews a large cast could be interpreted as you’ll never know who is who unless you take careful notes but not here. All of the characters are memorable starting of course with the sharp lead, Kim Stone and her side-kick Bryant – the banter between these two lightening the mood to avoid the book falling into a miserable read. As there are two different investigations the team are split up with Stacey getting to emerge from behind her desk to partner with Dawson as she takes her investigative skills out into the wild. The reader follows both sets of pairs along the way which really underlines the importance of the entire team with the focus not solely on our lead character. That said Kim is still as feisty and as driven as she has been in the previous books in this series which makes her one of my favourite detectives on the contemporary scene.
When I mentioned that this is crime fiction with its finger on the pulse I mean not only that it accurately takes those stories that make the headlines and puts flesh on the bones to digest, the author also emphasises through Kim as her mouthpiece that the victims are people too. The prostitute isn’t shorthand for a victim that no-one cares about and by association, doesn’t deserve the reader’s sympathy but a woman who perhaps has had to make choices that none of us would want to. In short the books are full of the details behind the headlines, yes of course they are entertainment but they also make you think without the ‘issue’ ever overpowering the storyline.
So we have an interesting premise (or two) a superb cast of characters from all walks of life but it seems to me that with each book Angela Marsons’ handling of the plot becomes ever more assured. There is no down-time in this book at all, I constantly needed to know what was going to happen next with the timing absolutely spot-on. In short, this is not a book to be missed by fans of the series and if you haven’t started this one yet, I’d get your skates on – book eight is due out in May 2018.
Broken Bones was my eleventh book of the year for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018, having been bought in November 2017 and as it is my own copy, it is worth another third of a book token so once again I have one book in the bank!!
Written in 1946 this is actually the third in the author’s series featuring the Oxford Professor of English Language and Literature Gervase Fen, but the first one that I have read and this one is featured in Martin Edwards’ brilliant book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.
In this book we meet famous poet Richard Cadogan who is seeking inspiration and so taps up his publisher for some money. That gets him just enough for a short holiday to Oxford. Clearly not very good on the organisational front after some hitch-hiking he finds himself on the deserted high street late at night and enters a toy shop, as you do, and finds a body of an elderly woman, clearly murdered. Poor old Richard is knocked out and locked in a cupboard by an unknown assailant. So it isn’t until the morning that he can alert anyone, by which time when he leads the finest of Oxfordshire’s constabulary to the high street, the toyshop has vanished.
Ultimately this is a locked room puzzle that needs a mind of a particular type to unlock the mystery and of course the local police aren’t terribly interested there being no body, no toyshop and therefore one has to assume no crime. Richard Cadogan isn’t to be thwarted though, he knows what he saw and so he calls on his old friend Gervase Fen to help. Gervase hops into his temperamental and somewhat erratically driven car, Lily Christine to investigate.
The unravelling of the mystery involves a legacy, one of the most often used device of the time but no less compelling for that, a sprinkling of limericks and a suitably complicated execution of a crime – fictional criminals of this era seemingly wanting to make things as difficult for themselves as those who may wind up investigating it.
Of course our duo don’t hand their suspicions over to the police, after all a poet and a university professor are quite entitled to work things out for themselves, even roping others into helping out
“I don’t think this is going to work,” Mr. Beavis remarked with some apprehension.
“It will work,” Fen responded confidently, “because no one expects this sort of trick outside a book”
The wonder of this novel is not so much the mystery, although that was well-executed, but the brilliant double-act that are Fen and Cadogan. While they are racing around in cars or sitting in bars stalking out various characters, they play silly games to pass the time such as unintentionally loathsome characters in literature, horrible classics and the most unreadable books of all time. All great fun although I have to admit that the use of unfamiliar phrases and words meant I am fully aware I didn’t quite get every humorous message, but I got enough to keep me fully entertained. Being set in Oxford even the local policeman is interested in literature..
Gervase, has it ever occurred to you that Measure for Measure is about the problem of Power?” Don’t bother me with trivialities now” said Fen, annoyed, and rang off.
And even the lorry driver that gave Richard a lift at the start of the book reads from the circulating library citing “lady’s somebody’s lover”as an example of a recent read.
Most of all this book is fun with a capital F. I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure quite what to expect but I fell in love with the characters, the bizarreness and the rattling pace which was enhanced by the humour.
The Moving Toyshop is number 39 on The Classics Club list and the third of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed. A great introduction into my Classic Crime Fiction.
First Published UK: 1946
No of Pages: 245
Genre: Classic Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Vicky Newham has already had great success with Turn a Blind Eye with the TV rights to Playground Entertainment who produced The Missing. This is the first in a two book deal with HQ featuring a new detective, DI Maya Rahman. Having read this debut novel, I’m not at all surprised.
DI Maya Rahman has returned from Bangladesh following the death of her brother and so it is testament to her work ethic and her love of the community that she serves, Tower Hamlets in East London, that when she gets a call about the murder of the headmistress at her former school, Mile End High School, she is straight onto the case. The first thing you need to know is this is a detective who is smart as well as hard-working and loyal.
One of the most appealing things about this book is the setting, the cultural diversity of the area allows the author to give these characters the type of back stories which aren’t often on offer in contemporary crime fiction. Best of all though whilst never minimising the difference in culture the author steers clear of stereotypes and instead each character, whatever their background, is a real person, as complex as humans tend to be. As Vicky Newham lived and taught in a school in the area for many years, this isn’t surprising, but it is refreshing.
Back to the story – the murder happened in the school and there is something always appealing about this setting although the focus is more on the teaching and support staff than the pupils the murder happening on a training day. Once the scenes of crime investigators arrive a cryptic note is found alongside the body of the headmistress, Linda Gibson. It contains a Buddhist precept, “I shall abstain from taking the ungiven”
From this Maya works with her team to discover as much as they can about the dead woman, the school and the Buddhist precept. Maya works closest with DS Maguire who despite the Irish name is an Australian who is missing his aborigine wife and two children who are still in Australia, waiting for the right time to join him in Tower Hamlets, and the two are getting to know each other in this book. There is a nice lack of police politics within the book with the political angle squarely on the local area, chiefly the education department, which to my mind is as it should be and makes for a far more interesting read. The tension is raised by threats from the local education department that if the killer isn’t found, and quickly, that the school will be shut down and that could spell disaster for the unsupervised children, and by default the local community and the police.
It will be no surprise that there is another death and matters from the past that need resolving before DI Rhaman and DS Maguire are able to get their man or woman!
This was an engaging crime fiction read, a great start to a new series which it has a real contemporary feel. I might have needed a bit of persuading that the motive was sound but overall this was a solid police procedural which demonstrated that the writer understands both plotting and timing which makes such a difference to the readability. I definitely want to revisit both the characters and the area again and will be watching eagerly for the next in the series.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Vicky Newham for sending me a copy of Turn a Blind Eye. This review is my unbiased thanks to her for introducing me to the strong and interesting protagonist of this new series.
First Published UK: 5 April 2018
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
For the sixth episode in this series set on the border between North and South Ireland Paula Maguire returns to Ballyterrin from her new London home for a wedding. Home to where her determination to discover more about her mother’s disappearance when she was just a teenager are strongest.
This is the best series about ‘The Troubles’ that I have read. Paula Maguire’s personal story along with those of her friends, including Aiden whose father was shot dead when he hid under a table as a young boy, really underline what it was like for those who lived there at this time. But the series isn’t just about the past, in this book two bodies have been found at a remote farmhouse and Paula Maguire is asked, as a former member of the missing persons team, and forensic psychologist, to find out who they were.
As in the previous books in the series, Paula’s work in the present is told alongside her determination to understand the past. This is easier said than done when what she discovers could be devastating for her former Police Officer father and the life he now has as husband, father and grandfather. Paula Maguire is just the type of protagonist I like most, she is brave and yet conflicted, she makes mistakes and she tries to put them right and she loves and loses along the way – in other words under Claire McGowan’s pen she has truly come to life.
I love the style of storytelling, and in The Killing House, we are transported back in time to hear the voice of one person held by the punishment team who have them held captive to find out the information for their cause. There are some horrific characters in this book but all held together by the basic goodness of many others, even those who may have done wrong in the past. The author has a way of differentiating between those who got caught up in the times, and those who enjoyed being part of it, exceptionally well so that the reader is able to look at this point in history at a personal level.
The current investigation, and the resultant politics which take into account the peace process are fascinating to learn about. The legal challenges in respect of crimes committed many years ago are put into the context of how the victims and their families, and of course the police officers, are trying to bring comfort in the form of knowledge, without the firm expectation that those who killed will face a trial. This book is full of the action which also underpins the series with danger around many a corner for all involved. There were many fast page-turning moments where I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.
There is never any doubt at all about the setting, the turns of phrase, without going to ridiculous lengths to recreating the accent, remind you on every page, the remoteness of some of the places describe and of course the interactions between the characters which are both heart-warming at times and so very practical at others.
I suspect that this is the last in this series, and I will miss Paula and what a ride it has been! This book has been meticulously plotted to ensure that the story arc which precedes it is wrapped up properly and although I think the time was right, I will miss the characters which I have invested in over the entire series. It was lovely to be given a proper conclusion to Paula’s personal story which I’m sure mirrors, at least in part, the stories of many others who lived through this time.
As this is what I suspect is the final episode in the series, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one, you really should read the books in order.
I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for providing me with a copy of The Killing House, which will be published on 5 April 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them, and of course the author for a brilliant and satisfying read.
First Published UK: 5 April 2018
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
I was absolutely delighted when Mary-Jane Riley asked me to kick-off the Blog Tour to promote her latest book, Dark Waters having been a huge fan of the previous two books in this series which features journalist Alex Devlin.
I have interrogated Mary-Jane Riley about Dark Waters in the following Q&A Session.
Well Mary-Jane Dark Waters is the third in the journalist Alex Devlin series; is it getting easier to write the books now the character is developed or does it sometimes curtail how you’d like her to behave?
Hmm, interesting question, Cleo. I’ve always found Alex pretty easy to write. It’s like I’ve always known her, perhaps because there’s a bit (a lot?) of me in her. I do usually know how she will react to events, and that’s what makes writing the novels with her centre-stage so satisfying. It’s not what I want to happen but what Alex wants to happen, how she reacts, the decisions she makes. I hope she always behaves true to character, and there’s no point in making her do something she wouldn’t. Does that make sense?
Tell us a little about Dark Waters, was there a Eureka moment which inspired the novel?
Dark Waters begins with the discovery of two bodies on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. The idea of using the Broads wasn’t so much of a eureka moment of inspiration as a slow realisation…. The Bad Things is set on the Suffolk coast, After She Fell on the crumbling cliffs of North Norfolk, so for my third I felt I wanted to go inland. And then I thought about the atmospheric Broads and how a boat could stay moored for several days before anyone would wonder what was going on….. That was the basic premise and I built the novel up from there! Sometimes that’s all you need, and I asked myself the usual questions: who were the people who had died? How had they met their end? Why were they on the boat? Did they know each other? And so on. I think I have probably done a disservice to the Broads, though, it really is a gorgeous place to visit! Do you have an idea what situations you are going to place poor Alex in next? Yes, that’s me checking that there is another book in the pipeline!
Yes. Oh, you want me to say more? Well… no, you’ll have to wait….
How long does it take to produce your first draft of each book? Yes, this is me trying to work out how long I have to wait for the next book!
It varies, and though I would love to be one of those people who writes the whole story as a first draft, I’m not. First of all I think about the story. A lit. Then I write bits, some of which will be scrapped. After that, when I think I know what I’m doing, I tend to write a third, then go back over that and edit. After the second third I’ve just about got the story I want to tell in my head or in my notebook as bullet points and can write the last third pretty quickly…or at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I’m just past that stage now! Then I read it through again and edit, and for my final edit I print it out and go through it. It probably takes about nine months in all.
You chose to set the series mainly in Norfolk with the memorable opening of two bodies being found on a barge in the county, however we also travel across the county boarder to Cambridge University. How much research do you do on the settings to make them feel so authentic?
I’m glad they feel authentic, thank you! I’ve lived in East Anglia for many years, and when I was a BBC reporter I travelled quite widely across Norfolk and Suffolk, so I know the area pretty well. My husband and I do take day trips out to the main places where the books are set – so Southwold for the The Bad Things, a village called Happisburgh for After She Fell and Wroxham and Ludham for Dark Waters. We do an awful lot of walking around and I take photos, and we usually ending up eating fish and chips. For the Cambridge section of Dark Waters I went to Cambridge, and I also spoke to a good friend who was at the university, so she could give me some insights!
In this episode, without giving too much away, Alex is having family problems. She really hasn’t had an easy ride so far in this area so I’m wondering do you secretly hate her or is it more that you enjoy showing her tenacious nature?
I love Alex! In Dark Waters she really suffers from being in the sandwich generation, don’t you think? Still trying to look after her son, Gus, and also her parents, particularly her father whose health is failing. I think it’s true of the lives of many women between, say, forty and fifty, don’t you? I do love how she battles through and survives both mentally and physically.
This book delves way back into the past in one strand of the storyline. I find this kind of storyline very appealing but wonder how hard is it to choose how much to reveal of the past when the main action is taking place in the present?
That’s another great question! I write the different strands separately and I’m not sure I actually ‘choose’ how much to reveal, it sort of happens naturally…. I suppose, thinking about it, that I look to that storyline as an echo of the past – I don’t want to overwhelm the present action. I usually end up cutting a lot of the past story, making it, hopefully, tighter.
Do you have a writing routine?
A very loose one…. I like to get some writing done in the morning after I have walked the dogs, even if only a little because at least I’ve got started. Hopefully I’ll do a couple of hours (with frequent breaks!) then maybe an hour after lunch and another hour early evening….that is in an ideal world….one I don’t really inhabit!
Do you read books in the same genre that you write in?
I do, I love the genre….reading and writing it. I enjoy a good thriller too and a long, rich saga! What was your last read?
I have a couple of books on the go…. Wendy Cope’s new poetry collection Anecdotal Evidence, and an interesting spy thriller The Language of Secrets by Asuma Zehanat Khan, but that’s not what you’re asking is it! I have just finished Skitter by Ezekiel Boone, which is about man-eating spiders and the end of the world. I love a good sci fi /dystopian thriller…..
Wow, having fallen a little bit in love with tenacious journalist Alex Devlin at the start of this series; Where the Bad Things Are, there is always a tiny worry that your heroine can let you down. Oh no, this book opens with a frankly gruesome description of bodies decay and didn’t stop twisting my emotions hither and thither until I sadly turned the last page.
Two bodies are found dead in a barge on the Norfolk Broads and Alex just happens to be in the area at the time. Seeing a chance to make a scoop she chats to the boat owner and the police ringing her old boss Bud Evans to see if he’s willing to run a piece. Within a day or so the verdict of suicide being the one the police are going with unsurprisingly as the deceased connected over the internet on a suicide website. Now I love it when crime fiction takes in (the often depressing) contemporary twists and although I’d vaguely heard of such sites, I was interested to see the character’s take on them too.
As always Mary-Jane Riley spoils her readers with a number of different strands all being played out simultaneously giving the reader no chance to catch their breath. We have the most recent past covered to give us some idea of what has happened in the gap between the end of After She Fell and the start of Dark Waters. We see the family continue to come to terms with the actions of her sister which dominated the first book and we also visit Cambridge University in the early 1970s, in haunting extracts from a first year’s foray into this great place of learning.
I love the fact that Alex is a journalist rather than a Police Officer as that way she isn’t so bound by procedures, or the need to act as a team. Some of the lighter scenes see her negotiating a way to stay on the story when Bud dispatches Heath from the crime desk to file the story. The battle between doing a more worthwhile story rather than extreme coupon is so compelling that Alex, much to the disgust of her friend Lin, is prepared to use her free time to dig into the lives of those who died on the barge but only if Heath lets her in on what he’s found out so far. I wonder how often this kind of dynamic plays out in the world of the freelance journalist.
As in the previous two books, you can’t doubt that any of these characters are anything other than real people.
With so much action going on it must be easy for the author to lose the oomph that makes the characters who they are, but not Mary-Jane, each one from primary to secondary characters are absolutely alive and kicking (well apart from the dead ones!) The plotting is ingenious with the steps along the way being revealed at just the right point to keep the storyline moving forward without ever feeling that the author is holding out on us.
I raced through Dark Waters, thrilled to catch up with Alex, delighted with the twists and turns that this tale took us on and so I turned the last page, sad to say goodbye, until next time!
First Published UK: 16 March 2018
Publisher: Killer Reads
No of Pages: 332
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK
DARK WATERS is the third crime thriller in the series featuring journalist Alex Devlin. It begins with a macabre discovery on board a pleasure cruiser on the beautiful Norfolk Broads – the decomposing bodies of two elderly men. It appears the dead men did not know each other and police suspect an internet suicide pact.
Alex’s search for the truth reveals a darker story. She finds a connection between the two men and possible links to other unexplained deaths.
As she investigates further, the stakes rise and her own family becomes embroiled in the mystery. Her inquiries lead her to the University of Cambridge. Could the roots of the puzzle lie there with a tragedy that unfolded amongst a group of carefree students many years before?
Long-buried secrets come to the surface and Alex’s life and the lives of her family are on the line. As the past and the present collide, Alex questions everything she thinks she knows about those she loves.
Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Mary-Jane has three grown-up children and lives in Suffolk with her husband and two golden retrievers.
DARK WATERS is her third crime thriller featuring investigative journalist, Alex Devlin.
If you like what you’ve read the links to buy the books are here!