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Thursday, 29 November 2012

‘Blood Never Dies’ by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Published by Severn House,
July 2012.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8211-0

On a hot August day Inspector Bill Slider of Shepherds Bush police station, is called to an unexpected death in an attic room in a Victorian terraced house just off the Uxbridge Road. Here he finds the body of a man in his early thirties dead in his bath.  At first taken as a suicide Slider is not sure, as they can find nothing to identify the man.  The name Robin Williams under which he rented the room proves false.

Convinced this is murder, Slider first has to identify the corpse and that takes him and his team on a merry dance, through, tattoo parlours and Soho Porn studios.  As they trace the pattern of his recent life Slider finds nothing that adds up to who this man actually was.

This is a fascinating and intriguing mystery, just who and what was the mysterious Robin Williams.   

We meet again with the elegant fastidious Detective Sergeant Atherton, slider’s sidekick and friend;  and always a delight is Slider’s boss Detective Chief Inspector Fred ‘The Syrup’ Porson he of the famous malapropisms. An old-fashioned copper who dislikes meetings, hates politics and is allergic to golf.  Bald with shaggy eyebrows no one ever invites him to a brainstorming breakfast meeting.  When Slider brings him up to speed on the case he growls. ‘A case of walking your chickens before they can run, if you ask me’ 

After a couple of days when all the leads seem to present even more questions, Sliders morning report to Porson brings forth ‘Well, feelings are in the eye of the beholder’ What lines are you pursuing?

Well plotted with a satisfactory conclusion, a Cynthia Harrod-Eagles book featuring Bill Slider  is always a joy and this one does not disappoint only when I turn the last page and wonder how long I will have to wait for the next one.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles was born in Shepherd's Bush in London. She was educated at Burlington School, a girls' charity school founded in 1699, and at the University of Edinburgh and University College London, where she studied English, history and philosophy. She wrote her first novel while at university and in 1972 won the Young Writers' Award with The Waiting Game. Afterwards she had a variety of jobs in the commercial world, beginning as sales manager for the Coca Cola Company in Edinburgh, and ending up as pensions officer for the BBC in London, while writing during the evenings and weekends. The birth of the MORLAND DYNASTY series enabled her to become a full-time writer in 1979. The series was originally intended to comprise twelve volumes, but it has proved so popular that it has now been extended to thirty-four. In 1993 she won the RNA Novel of the Year Award with Emily, the third volume of her Kirov Saga, a trilogy set in nineteenth century Russia. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles still lives in London, has a husband and three children, and apart from writing her passions are music (she plays in several amateur orchestras) horses, wine, architecture and the English countryside.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

‘Devoured’ by D E Meredith

 Published by Allison & Busby,
20 Aug 2012.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-1275-5

Set in 1856, this is a story about two pioneer forensic investigators, Professor Adolphus Hatton and his assistant, Albert Roumande.  The initial crime that takes their attention is the murder of a society lady and intellectual, Lady Bessingham but soon there are other gruesome murders, including a Cambridge don whose corpse has been treated like a taxidermist's specimen.

The book opens with a letter written by explorer and botanist Benjamin Broderig to Lady Bessingham, his patron, who has subsidised his voyage.  Similar letters are dotted throughout the book and provide oblique clues to the reason behind the crimes. As well as Hatton and Roumande, Broderig involves himself in the investigation, which is led by Inspector George Adams of Scotland Yard, a 'celebrity' detective much praised in the newspapers.

Devoured is a very complex and dark book, exploring the poverty and squalor of Victorian London; the callous way in which wealthy Victorians exploited their unspoiled corners of their empire and the violent passions roused by the new theories regarding evolution.  The forensic scenes are authentic and disturbing, not just in the grim details of a post mortem but also in the callous lack of respect many Victorians showed to the poor, especially to murdered prostitutes.

It is the first book in a series featuring Hatton and Roumande.  The two men have very different characters and lifestyles but their respect and affection for each other is made very clear, as is their passion for the new science of forensics, which is still in its early stages and is little respected in Victorian times.  Hatton and Roumande have a very good relationship which promises to be developed in future books.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
D E Meredith After reading English at Cambridge, Denise trained in advertising during the late 80s but quickly grew tired of the world of Coco-Pops and so jumped ship to work as a campaigner for conservation causes, before moving swiftly into the press office at the British Red Cross, where she  realised that her passion for justice was more than equal to her love of Nature.  Working for the Red Cross meant that she got to visit many extraordinary places at key moments in their history: Afghanistan just before it fell to the Taliban, Rwanda as it was her a unique view into suffering. But she also met some incredible people, who gave up everything to help others.  Having a young family, she had little choice but to leave the war zones behind her. Next she worked as a consultant on campaigning and media relations for WWF, Greenpeace, Help the Aged, the IUCN and many others. She now lives a fairly simple life – a writer’s life – in a London village called St Margaret’s, which had its fair share of murders and writers. It was once was home to Charles Dickens, J.M.W. Turner and Percy Bysshe Shelley (but not at the same time!). The Thames, the verdant meadows and the miles of Victorian architecture are constant sources of delight, as well as that wonderfully intangible thing writers like to call “material.”

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a core contributor to Women's Weekly.  She also writes contemporary and historical crime and is currently looking for an agent or publisher.  An Adult Education teacher, Carol has always maintained that writing and reading fiction is good for people and has spent much of her career facilitating Creative Writing for disabled people.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

‘Standing in Another Man’s Grave’ by Ian Rankin

Published by Orion, 
8 November 2012. 
ISBN: 978-1-4091-4471-7

This is the long-awaited resurrection of John Rebus, coaxed back into service after five years of retirement through the back door of Cold Case Unit, the Scottish equivalent of  U.C.O.S. of BBC’s  ‘New Tricks’.

One notable difference between Rebus’s debut in 1987 and this volume is the sheer length of the book. At 210 pages, ‘Knots and Crosses’ was a mere 18 pages longer than the almost obligatory 192 pages for a crime novel at the time. This, the 19th Rebus epic, runs to 452, considerably larger, pages and it is this difference that ultimately defines the work.

Rankin has also used the clever marketing ploy of introducing his new character, Malcolm Fox of the Complaints Dept, into the action in the hope of alerting readers to the other series. This is something I once did myself, when DCI Glass made a guest appearance in one of my Johnny Ace novels. I can’t recall whether Agatha Christie ever had Poirot run into Miss Marple.

Many of the old characters are back.  Rebus’s onetime nemesis, Cafferty, is now his fortnightly drinking companion. Siobham Clark, now a D.I., is dealing with a missing girl case. And in the middle of all this, a lady approaches Rebus about her own daughter who has been missing for fifteen years. A cold crime case indeed except this lady has worked out that several girls have gone missing over a period of time in the same area, alongside the A9, and the latest one is Clark’s current missing person case. Furthermore this girl has gangland connections that interest Rebus and so Rebus and Clark embark upon a long trail to the Highlands to look for clues.

Now the disadvantage of such a long book is the reader is in danger of burn-out halfway through as everything is described in meticulous detail and every path is re-trodden until one wonders why Rebus couldn’t solve the case in 200 pages like he used to. Perhaps he was getting too old.  But then, by about page 250, after I had been put off going any further North than Wishaw again in my life, I started to get totally absorbed into the plot and turned the pages feverishly like it was somebody’s diary and I dare not miss one day of the action as it unfolded.
Rebus has applied to return to CID, the retirement age having been raised. It may take him 600 pages next time but, if so, stick with it. It will probably be worth it.
Reviewer: Ron Ellis
Ian Rankin  was born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature. His first Rebus novel was published in 1987, and the Rebus books are now translated into twenty-two languages and are bestsellers on several continents. Ian Rankin has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and is also a past winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers' Association Dagger Awards including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2005. In 2004, Ian won America's celebrated Edgar Award for 'Resurrection Men'. He has also been shortlisted for the Edgar and Anthony Awards in the USA, and won Denmark's Palle Rosenkrantz Prize, the French Grand Prix du Roman Noir and the Deutscher Krimipreis. Ian Rankin is also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Abertay, St Andrews and Edinburgh.
A contributor to BBC2's 'Newsnight Review', he also presented his own TV series, 'Ian Rankin's Evil Thoughts'. He recently received the OBE for services to literature, opting to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh, where he lives with his partner and two sons.
Ron Ellis is the author of the  Johnny Ace books which are engrossing page-turners full of Liverpool atmosphere while mixed in with the fictional characters are real life Mersey musicians and places Beatles fans will be familiar with. The Singing Dead, in particular is a fascinating mystery concerning the discovery of a tape containing unreleased songs performed by a young John Lennon. Other Ace mysteries include Mean Streets, Ears of the City and Framed. Once you’ve read one you’ll want them all! Ron is a very busy fellow and is running a course for Liverpool University on ‘Pop Music in Britain 1945-80’, in addition to penning reports on Southport FC for local papers, running a property company in London’s Docklands and doing the odd bit of acting, photography, public speaking, broadcasting and D-J’ing. Some years ago Ron also acted as researcher for the Albert Goldman book ‘The Lives of John Lennon.’ Goldman sent him the names of people he wanted him to trace and interview on his behalf, including friends and relations of Lennon. He also had to find copies of records and books that had an influence on John in his formative years and take photographs of significant people and places. This led to him working on the project for four years, sometimes three or four nights a week, traveling to London, Scotland and Hamburg following up leads and interviewing everyone he could find with a connection to Lennon and a story to tell.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

‘A Darkly Hidden Truth’ by Donna Fletcher Crow

Published by Monarch Books, 2012.
ISBN: 978-0-85721-050-0

This is the second in the series of The Monastery Murders but it is perfectly readable if you have not (as I have not) read the first book. The characters are clearly shown from the beginning here so that no knowledge of their previous adventure is needed other than references they themselves make. The heroine Felicity is a lively modern American young woman in Britain who is considering the possibility of becoming a nun. She soon finds that the path to acceptance in a nunnery is long and complex! She also begins to realise that her own rashness leads her into directions where she is blinded to reality. Her friend Antony is not, and is unhappy with her desire to be a nun.

The story also refers back to the past, specifically to the lives of the Fifteenth century mystic Julian of Norwich and the contrasting female pilgrim, Margery Kempe. In the present day Felicity and Father Anthony are searching for a stolen icon in a whirl of travel around England. Much Christian Church background is given as the tale progresses. The arrival of Felicitys mother from the USA with a family dilemma and the disappearance of their friend Neville complicate the story. They are caught up in a maelstrom of frightening events as they are menaced by unknown assailants and discover bodies. The story reaches a satisfactory conclusion as the villains are unmasked and Felicity recognises her real vocation.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
The first book of the Monastery Murders is called A Very Private Grave.

Donna Fletcher Crow majored in English and became a starry-eyed English teacher, aspiring to inspire her students to a love of great literature before she retired to become a full time mother.  The writer that really catapulted her into writing, was Gerogette Heyer. Her Venetia became the springboard for her first novel Brandley's Search, reissued later as Where Love Begins, That book grew into the six-book Cambridge Chronicles series. Donna wrote four mysteries in the early '90s, but still considered herself primarily a historical novelist. But she found her leisure reading told the true story. The adage to "write what you like to read" was working itself out in her reading, Wilkie Collins, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham all turned her focus more sharply to mystery writing.
Jennifer Palmer. Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

Monday, 19 November 2012

‘Split Second’ by Cath Staincliffe

Published by Robinson,
19 July 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-84901-346-8

Staincliffe has jumped to fame as the author of the brilliant Scott and Bailey, police procedural, television hit series. Split Second is not a Scott and Bailey story. It is a stand-a-lone, the only similarities being that it is set in Manchester and revolves around a murder. A young black boy is travelling alone on a bus, when four youths verbally and racially abuse him, and just one passenger comes to his defence. When the black youth makes a dash from the bus, the four youths pursue him, and the passenger who came to his defence, pursues them. There is a fight and two boys are stabbed. The four youths have run away before the police arrive and no one is sure who they are. There was a witness on the bus, who was too afraid to get involved, but after reading in the paper what happened, she comes forward and agrees to give evidence in court. 

This scenario is a slice of modern life- something that is happening every day, on our streets. Staincliffe’s story is well observed and well researched, and much, more. It is powerfully emotive and pulls you in, quickly and fully, as the main characters are clear, real, and all victims. This really is the story of the people affected by this crime. Firstly a caring and loving first year university- student, his life lost in seconds through a fruitless argument. There are the parents of both the stabbed victims, one whose marriage is in jeopardy, and the other a single parent who faces the possibility of the death of her son, alone. The witness on the bus, who eventually comes forward to give evidence, has her whole life affected, and the sister of one of the victims- whose only dream was to become a pop star. Then there are the police who run the case. It is a story of tragedy, and of hope, of broken marriages, of new affairs, all wrapped around the despair of wasted lives. Staincliffe’s characters are real and heartfelt. Staincliffe’s writing is nothing short of brilliant. This book will make you sit up and think. It left me thinking about the situation for a long time after I closed the book. Did it have a satisfying ending? I’ll leave that to you to decide. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Reviewer: Linda Regan

Cath Staincliffe was brought up in Bradford and hoped to become an entomologist (insects) then a trapeze artist before settling on acting at the age of eight.  She graduated from Birmingham University with a Drama and Theatre Arts degree and moved to work as a community artist in Manchester where she now lives with her family. Looking for Trouble, published in 1994, launched private eye Sal, a single parent struggling to juggle work and home, onto Manchester’s mean streets.  It was short listed for the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasey best first novel award, serialised on BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour and awarded Le Masque de l’Année in France.  Cath has published a further seven Sal Kilkenny mysteries.
In 2012 Cath won the CWA Short Story Dagger for Laptop, sharing the prize with Margaret Murphy with her story The Message. Both stories featured in Best Eaten Cold, a Murder Squad anthology. Cath is also a scriptwriter, creator of ITV’s hit police series, Blue Murder, which ran for five series from 2003 – 2009 starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. Cath writes for radio and created the Legacy drama series which features a chalk-and-cheese, brother and sister duo of heir hunters whose searches take them into the past lives of families torn apart by events.
Trio, a stand-alone novel, moved away from crime to explore adoption and growing up in the 1960s.  Cath’s own story, of tracing and being re-united with her Irish birth family and her seven brothers and sisters, featured in the television documentary Finding Cath from RTE.
Dead To Me, a prequel to the popular Scott & Bailey TV show, sees the two women detectives thrown together for the very first time as they investigate the brutal murder of a teenage girl. Cath is a founder member of Murder Squad, a virtual collective of northern crime writers.  She is an avid reader and likes hill-walking, messing about in the garden and dancing (with far more enthusiasm than grace).

Linda Regan is the author of six police procedural crime novels. She is also an actress. She holds a Masters degree in critical writing and journalism, and writes a regular column, including book reviews, for three magazines. She also presents the book-club spot on BBC Radio Kent. She is an avid reader, and welcomes the chance to read new writers.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

‘Tooth for a Tooth’ by T F Muir

Published by Robinson,
6 September, 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-78033-777-7

With the discovery of a woman’s skeleton in a shallow grave, the case is assigned to Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilchrist. When visiting the grave, although all forms of identity have been removed from the body, Andy does find a piece of evidence that he assumes must have been overlooked.

The Post Mortem dates the skeleton as thirty plus years, invoking memories for Andy of the death of his brother killed in a hit and run 35 years ago. No one was ever brought to account.  As Andy seeks to indentify the skeleton, he begins to fear that his brother could be linked to the crime.  Could his brother be the girl’s killer?  And so Andy finds himself forced to face the unthinkable.

Whilst he is grappling with the possibility of his brother being the killer, someone has it in for him, and loses no time to implicate him in evidence-tampering, with the result that Andy is suspended pending am investigation.

When the girl is identified there are many twists and turns as Andy tries to reconstruct the events of thirty-five years ago. As his investigations proceed he uncovers many contradictions as he attempts to unravel the web of deceit surrounding the events of the past. Racing against time, the story culminates in a stunning edge-of-your seat climax. Highly recommended


Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes  

T F Muir was born in Glasgow. Frank was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells. By the time he graduated from University with a degree he hated, he’d already had more jobs than the River Clyde has bends. Short stints as a lumberjack in the Scottish Highlands and a moulder’s labourer in the local foundry convinced Frank that his degree was not such a bad idea after all. Twenty-five years of working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country. Now a dual US/UK citizen, Frank divides his time between Richmond, Virginia, and Glasgow, Scotland, carrying out research in the local pubs and restaurants. Frank is currently doing some serious book research in St Andrews' local pubs, and working on his next novel, another crime story suffused with dark alleyways and cobbled streets and some things gruesome.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

‘Gone West’ by Carola Dunn

Published by Constable Robinson.  
ISBN: 978-1-78033-139-3

For the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple, as for most of her generation, The Great War had a profound effect on the course of their future lives.  Daisy's only brother and her fiancé had died in the War.  Her father had died in the influenza pandemic of 1919 and the Dalrymple estates and title passed to a distant cousin.  Rather than live as a dependant in her old home or in the Dower House with her demanding mother, Daisy set out to earn her own living by writing for magazines, articles about great houses and historical traditions.

Daisy's scheme to pay her own way is successful and her friendship with many important and noble families means that she always has somewhere new to write about.  There is just one flaw in Daisy's new life… wherever she goes she encounters someone who has died by foul play, and what else can she do but investigate?  Fortunately the long-suffering Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard is always assigned to the case to attempt to control Daisy's curiosity.

Gone West is set in September 1926 and Daisy is now married to Alec Fletcher, the mother of young twins and stepmother to Alec's daughter.  In this book, Daisy travels north to a remote farmhouse in Derbyshire at the plea of an old school friend, Stella Sutherby.  Stella is the secretary to Humphrey Birtwhistle who, under a pseudonym, is a successful writer of Western adventures. Daisy soon realises that, since Humphrey's life-threatening illness three years previously, Sybil had been writing his books, with a lot more commercial success than he had achieved himself. Humphrey still provides the plots and they are still published under his pen name.  All of Humphrey's family benefit from Sybil's success and Daisy begins to suspect that someone amongst them is deliberately keeping him in ill-health.  When Humphrey dies unexpectedly it seems unlikely that anyone close to him would have a motive to kill him.  Then Daisy starts to probe and Alec and his men are sent to investigate.

Gone West is the twentieth book in the Daisy Dalrymple series.  I found the title particularly interesting.  Gone West obviously refers to the sort of books written by the victim, which forms part of the motive for the crime, but 'gone west' is also a slang term, used since the 16th Century, to indicate someone has died.

The Daisy Dalrymple books are the ultimate cosy crime comfort read.  However there is a hint of the reality of the time that gives the series credibility.  Many of the books feature young men who have been maimed physically and mentally by the First World War, and young women who have been left as spinsters because of the loss of so many of their male contemporaries.  It also shows the first breakdown of the rigid social order when respectable young women started to work in jobs that had been regarded as only suitable for men.  Also many girls married men from a different class because so many of their own 'type' have died.  This was what Daisy did when she married into the middle-classes.  It is particularly poignant that Daisy feels isolated in her grief for her fiancé because he was a conscientious objector, even though he died courageously in the trenches, as a stretcher-bearer rescuing wounded men.

The Daisy Dalrymple books are warm and entertaining, with interesting plots, and above all great fun.  Gone West is a very enjoyable read. 
Reviewer: Amanda Brown

Carola Dunn was born and grew up in England. After graduating from Manchester University, she set off around the world, but only made it halfway, to Fiji, before turning back to get married. She lived in Southern California for 20 years, and then moved to Eugene, Oregon, where she now lives. She is the author of over 50 books: 20 mysteries in the Daisy Dalrymple series, set in England in the 1920s; a new series set in Cornwall in the 1960s, and 32 Regencies, not counting numerous novellas.

Monday, 12 November 2012

‘Beneath the Daisies’ by Jayne-Marie Barker

Published by Austin & Maculey, 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-849-63073-3

This is an interesting debut in mystery fiction by Jayne-Marie Barker. The heroine in the present day is Sophie Harris who has inherited a house form her grandmother and is busily moving in. She hires a handyman, Andy, who is a handsome and charming man. Unfortunately his digging in the garden produces an unpleasant result - two skeletons. It is quickly established that these bodies date to the mid1930s and Sophie wonders if her own family have a secret murderer!

Sophie is threatened as a result of the discovery and wonders who she can trust. The characters are effectively described and the background of Sophies work is particularly well shown. Entries from the diary of a woman from the 1930s are interspersed with the present day events to build up towards the climactic discovery of the truth.
Reviewer: Jennifer Palmer
Jayne-Marie Barker was born in May 1981, Jayne-Marie grew up in Suffolk. Following the achievement of her OCR RSA Diploma in Administrative and Secretarial Procedures in the summer of 1999, aged eighteen, she moved to Hertfordshire. Currently working as Personal Assistant to the CEO of one of England's leading tyre retailers. Aside from writing her other passion in life is dance, and she belongs to two weekly classes; one being Ballroom & Latin and the other Brazilian Carnival Samba. Her passion for dance is such that she has passed exams in Ballroom, Latin, Salsa and Argentine Tango, and can now proudly call herself an amateur member of the IDTA.
Her debut novel, Beneath The Daisies, was inspired by a dreamless nights idle thought. It was with an inkling of promise that I began the work in 2006 and since revised it three times into its current shape. Any writing success I achieve is largely thanks to my consistent desire to write and my ever-supporting family, who I never wish to be without.

Jennifer Palmer. Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

‘The Crime of Julian Wells’ by Thomas H Cook

Published by Head of Zeus,
4 October 2012. 
ISBN: 978-1-90880-014-5

I found this a moving and insightful book.

The story opens with the death by his own hand of Julian Wells, a writer, who explored through his writing the crimes of man against his fellow man in the twentieth century.  Asked by Julian’s sister to give a eulogy at Julian’s funeral, Philip Anders, literary critic and Julian’s best friend, looks back over his friend’s life, and in doing so becomes convinced that his friend had a secret, and that maybe it was because he was haunted by a crime he had committed that he ended his life.

And so Philip Anders sets out on a journey to revisit the places that Julian visited to attempt to uncover the mystery.  It is a journey that spans several decades and takes him to Paris, South America and Spain. He has few clues, as in all good mysteries, he picks up clues along the way.  As he becomes immersed in his investigations he relives conversations with Julian and wonders if he knew him at all.  He is also plagued by the belief that had he been a better friend he could have prevented Julian’s death. 

This is the story of an intelligent, clever and complex man, whose introspection and desire for experience, knowledge and understanding takes him to dark places. And equally, as we learn through Philip about Julian, Philip is revealed.

As the story progresses, the reader is directed to certain conclusions, but the ending is unexpected and has horrific implications. It will give pause for reflection long after the last page has been turned.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Thomas H Cook  is the author of eighteen books, including two works of true crime. His novels have been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Macavity Award and the Dashiell Hammett Prize. The Chatham School Affair won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel in 1996. His true crime book, Blood Echoes, was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1992, and his story "Fatherhood" won the Herodotus Prize in 1998 and was included in Best Mystery Stories of 1998. His works have been translated into fifteen languages.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

‘Trust Your Eyes’ by Linwood Barclay

 Published by Orion, 27 September 2012.  ISBN: 978-1409115021

I've seen Linwood Barclay's name all over the place, in bookshops, in airports, on  library shelves, but until now, I have never actually read one of his books. Trust Your Eyes is brilliant and grabbed me from the first page.  Not only is it a fine thriller, it deals in the most sensitive way with mental health issues, though the story is genuinely action-packed.
Day and night, schizophrenic Thomas Kilbride roams the world from his bedroom, thanks to an advanced map-reading real-time Google Earth type of programme, and is convinced that he is employed by the CIA to memorize every street of every city in the world, ready for the day when there are no more maps on earth.  On one of his forays to New York, he sees what he is convinced is the murder of a woman standing at the window of an apartment.  As an obsessive, he never stops nagging at his brother Ray – who has come back to the family home after the death of their father – to go back to the city in order to check it out. 

In order to get some peace, Ray eventually agrees to go – and the two brothers find  themselves embroiled with a gang of ruthless killers working on behalf of a man who would be President of the United States.

There is a large and varied cast, but part of Barclay's skill as a story teller is not only the way he differentiates between them all but also how he draws the reader into their lives, even those of the  baddies.  The plot is full of twists and turns, there is plenty of humour, President Clinton has a cameo part and the two brothers are both in their different ways completely believable and sympathetically drawn. 

I genuinely could not stop reading until I'd finished this book.  I can't recommend it too highly, and almost the best thing about it is that there is a long list of other books by the same author, which I am now going to read and enjoy.
Reviewer: Susan Moody
Earlier books are No Time for Goodbye, Too Close to Home, Fear the Worst, Never Look Away, The Accident, Never Saw it Coming.

Linwood Barclay was born in Connecticut.  He started his journalism career in 1977 at the Peterborough Examiner, moved on to a small Oakville paper in 1979, and then to the Toronto Star in 1981 where he was, successively, assistant city editor, news editor, chief copy editor and Life section editor. He lives in Toronto with  his wife, Neetha and two children.

 Susan Moody was born in Oxford is the principal nom de plume  of Susan Elizabeth Donaldson, née Horwood, a British novelist best known for her suspense novels. She is a former Chairman of the Crime Writer's Association, served as World President of the International Association of Crime Writers, and was elected to the prestigious Detection Club. Susan Moody has given numerous courses on writing crime fiction and continues to teach creative writing in England, France, Australia, the USA and Denmark.  In addition to her many stand alone books, Susan has written two series, on featuring PI Penny Wanawake (seven books) and a series of six books featuring bridge player Cassie Swan.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

‘Sworn Secret’ by Amanda Jennings

Published by Constable & Robinson, 16 Aug 2012. ISBN: 978-1-84901-969-9

A mystery, and possibly even a murder, lies at the heart of this accomplished debut work – but it all adds up to much more than a straightforward crime novel.

Brilliant, beautiful fifteen-year-old Anna Thorne died in tragic circumstances a year before the book begins, and her family and friends are having a hard time dealing with their grief. Her mother Kate frantically paints portraits of Anna, and lurches between violent mood swings and blanking the world out.
Her father Jon tries to bury his own feelings in order to hold the family together, and also support his mother, who has troubles of a different kind. Her sister Lizzie, on the cusp of adulthood, misses Anna desperately but also craves some life of her own. It’s all made harder for everyone concerned when devastating details emerge about Anna’s relationships and character, prompting a whole heap of new questions about whether her death really was the accident they are all desperate to believe it was.

Jennings creates a delicate balance between the emotional rollercoaster and the enigma of Anna’s death. Without a shred of mawkishness or sentimentality, she gets inside each family member’s head and explores their different ways of coming to terms with the ongoing trauma of losing Anna; and threads the mystery element through their journeys in a way which creates a page-turner that makes the reader ache to know the outcome.

Perhaps most important of all, she creates a cast of characters it’s impossible not to care about, and gives them a life which one feels will continue long after the story reaches its conclusion.

Amanda Jennings is an author to watch; I’ll certainly be looking out for her next novel.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick 

Amanda Jennings Amanda Jennings was born in London in 1973, and her family moved to a village in rural Berkshire when she was young. Unsure what career she wanted to pursue, she accepted a place to read architecture at Cambridge University, but it soon became clear it wasn’t for her and she changed course to History of Art – more writing, less physics! After university, she and a friend set up a company writing copy for small businesses, which paid just enough for rent and wine, but not quite enough for food. After a rethink Amanda went to work at the BBC. Following the birth of her second, she took the opportunity to be at home with her children, grabbing every spare moment she could find to write. Sworn Secret is her first novel. Amanda lives just outside Henley-on-Thames with her husband, three daughters. She is currently working on her next book. In a parallel fantasy life she is an ex-champion downhill skier, turned Blue Peter presenter, turned battery chicken liberator.

Lynne Patrick used to run a highly-regarded small publishing company specializing in crime fiction.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sarah Rayne in conversation with Lizzie Hayes

Sarah Rayne began writing in her teens, and after a Convent education, which included writing plays for the Lower Third to perform, embarked on a variety of jobs.
Her first novel was published in 1982, and since then she has written more than 20 books, including eight psychological thrillers, which have met with considerable acclaim, including the nomination to the long-list for the prestigious
Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year 2005 for
Tower of Silence,
(originally published in 2003).
As well as being published in America and Australia, Sarah’s books have been translated into German, Dutch, Russian, and Turkish.

Sarah, before we get to the questions, I have to say that I find your writing utterly fascinating. The suspense and tension you build is almost tangible, and in places has me holding my breath as I turn the page eager and terrified in equal measures to know what comes next. So you have here a fan avid to hear what comes next!
Sarah: Thanks, Lizzie.  I sometimes have to turn the page (well, scroll down the screen) myself to find out what comes next.

Q When you agreed to do this interview you said that you had just delivered your next book. So can you tell us something about this book?  Is it a Nell West? And when can we expect to see it on the shelves?

A Yes, it is a new Nell West/Michael Flint book – the title is ‘The Silence’, and publication is 31st January 2013.  It reveals a bit more about the family and the past of Nell’s dead husband, and she finds out some surprising things.  The eerie element to the book starts with music being heard where no music can exist – music that was first heard a century earlier when a macabre murder took place in a lonely house.  The echoes and the consequences of that murder are still reverberating in the present.  

Q Having read several of your psychological thrillers, I am curious to know what prompted you to start the antique dealer, Nell West, and the Oxford don, Michael Flint series?
A Several years ago I was asked to write and present a Halloween ghost-story evening at a local historic house.  There were so many legends attached to the place, it was almost a question of auditioning the resident spooks, to decide which to use.  (‘No, sorry, we can’t have a headless horseman because of Health & Safety…’  ‘Chain rattling is fine, providing you keep the noise down…’)  I took two or three of these tales, stirred in a couple of my own, and presented the result as a series of diaries, ‘found’ during renovations of the house.  It was quite well received; in fact there were requests to repeat the performance in other parts of the county, and it was interesting and fun to research ghost tales within the different areas, and adapt the original diaries to the locality.
Then, in 2010, I was commissioned to write a series of supernatural mysteries, so I disinterred the diaries, and adapted them yet again, this time creating a house on the Shropshire borders with a dark reputation.  For the modern-day frame, conscious of treading in the steps of the incomparable M.R. James, but hoping to print new footsteps of my own, I created an Oxford don as a reluctant hero/ghost-hunter, and gave him, as collaborator, an antiques dealer. 
The first of the books, Property of a Lady, seemed to go down well so the decision was taken to make it a series – which I’m loving writing.  Quite a lot of the disciplines needed in writing crime/thrillers also apply to ghost stories – for example, motives.  Ghosts, like any character in a book, need a motive.  They don’t just turn up because there’s a vacant slot at the moated grange, or the grey lady at the old rectory wants someone to make up a fourth at bridge.
Q You are the daughter of an Irish comedy actor. I seem to recall that he played a part or was the inspiration for Ghost Song. Can you tell us about that?

A          My father was a music-hall singer/songwriter – although during a slightly later era than Ghost Song’s flashback scenes which are 1890s and early 1900s.  He was indeed part of the inspiration, and I also named one of the characters for him.  For ages I had wanted to set a book in that era, but I couldn’t see a central plot. Then my brother mentioned how so many of those old music-hall songs have deeper meanings – in particular ‘My Old Dutch’.  People parody that now, especially the first line – ‘We’ve been together now for forty years/And it don’t seem a day too much.’   But in fact it was written as a lament – it’s the husband’s farewell to his wife as they trudge up the hill to the workhouse, knowing that once there, they’ll be separated for the first time in all their forty years.  Deeply moving, isn’t it?  So I suddenly saw that a crime could be committed and the truth about it hidden inside a music-hall song.

Q          In many of your books the buildings themselves are as much a character as the protagonist. From where did this fascination with buildings come?

A          I can only think it dates to when I was very small and my mother and I used to take walks during which she would say, ‘Let’s look at the houses and pick out one we’d like to live in.’e’s so much to glean from houses – their atmospheres, their histories.  I don’t  mean yomping round the Tower of London and thinking you’re seeing Ann Boleyn or the murdered Princes.  I mean ordinary buildings. Places where people have lived and worked.  My long-suffering partner has been dragged over most of the British Isles to view houses and locations.  (His sense of direction is better than mine, and he’s usually placated by the promise of a pub lunch en route…) I do find, though, that to use a real place can be fraught with pitfalls. There will always be at least one reader who lives in the town or the village you use, who will write to you – or, worse, to your editor –  pointing out that Arnold couldn’t have drowned Ethel in the duckpond, because it’s now a supermarket. But sometimes settings can take you by surprise.  Several years ago I wrote a book based on the seventeenth-century Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  She used to bathe in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth and beauty.  (Maybe we should put in a warning here, advising readers not to try that at home…?)  She lived in the Carpathian Mountains, but she also had a town house in Vienna.  At the time I couldn’t travel to either place, but a few years later I did go to Vienna, and I found her house in a place called the Blutgasse – Blood Alley.  I was very glad to discover the Blutgasse to be as creepy and ancient as I had described.  One of those really eerie pockets in Old Vienna.  But what I didn’t expect was to find that a neighbour of Elizabeth’s was Mozart.  About 150 years later he had lived in a house so close that they could have waved to one another, or discussed the weather when putting out the milk bottles – if it wasn’t for the century and a half that separated them.  I do wonder if I would have written parts of that book slightly differently if I’d been able to travel to Vienna at the time.
Q You write so convincingly and powerfully of forces that are not of this world, it makes me wonder if  you’re ever personally experienced anything paranormal?
I would love to say yes, and be able to relate a spooky story, but ghosts seem to pass me by.  The nearest I can get is when I was writing House of the Lost, and describing a particular character’s appearance.  It always matters to let readers know what people look like, of course, but he was a special case.  The lady eyeing him with semi-suppressed ardour was doing so with some guilt, being a young nun for whom attraction to any man was forbidden.  So I described him as being in his early thirties, with soft dark hair, slightly too long, and wearing a green corduroy jacket, brown knitted tie, and cotton shirt. I wrote the scene, then went off to collect some shopping.  And there in the supermarket checkout, two customers ahead, was a man in his early thirties with soft dark hair a bit too long, a green corduroy jacket, brown knitted tie… By the time I reached the car park – which was awash with torrential rain – he had vanished. I do know that the sensible explanation was that I’d seen him in the supermarket on a previous occasion and subliminally absorbed his appearance and used it.  But I would much rather believe I had conjured him up and that no one else in that supermarket saw him except me

Q  Does a book come from something you have experienced or a place you have visited or do you sit at your desk and let your imagination take over? 
Ideas are everywhere. They’re in bits of TV news or overheard conversations in the cheese queue at the delicatessen.  One of my favourite inspirations is from a TV documentary about conjoined twins.  .  Among the case histories was one of two teenage boys who had been successfully separated a few years previously But after the operation, they both had identical near-nightmares, in which the original 'Siamese twins - Chang and Eng Bunker - would stand at the foot of their beds and threaten to have them re-joined.
‘We could never be separated,’ said these dream figures.  ‘So why should you?’ The idea of two sets of conjoined twins – but a century apart – dropped straight into my mind, and by the time the programme’s credits were rolling, I was already scribbling notes.  And from that, came A Dark Dividing. As for places providing inspirations – quite near to where I live is a large reservoir, and there’s an elusive but wonderfully eerie legend that says the reservoir’s creation drowned a number of buildings – perhaps even an entire hamlet. I wanted to use this concept of a drowned village in a plot.  The trouble was that other writers had used it, in fact it’s almost a genre by itself, sometimes called reservoir noir.  But I researched the tradition of lost villages – most of them lost to enclosure or coastal erosion or wiped out by disease.  More recently, by-passes, of course.  But some were the subject of strange experiments.  One of the most famous of those is probably Gruinard Island – the ‘anthrax isle’ in Scotland, sealed off from the world for almost half a century.
So I came up with the idea of – not a drowned village, but a poisoned village.  An ordinary English village that had been the subject of an experiment during the Cold War.  But an experiment that went wrong, so that the place had to be sealed up for the next 50 years.  What secrets could you hide inside a place closed to the world for half a century?  At that point, my lost village, with all its long-reaching secrets, suddenly became possible as a setting for a book.  And What Lies Beneath was written.

Q. When starting a new book do you always have a clear view of how the book will work, and if so do your books always pan out as originally envisioned, or change during the writing process? 
A I start by writing a synopsis – a fairly detailed one, virtually a work plan.  I think that’s the hardest part of the process – it’s like a sculptor facing a raw chunk of stone and having to hew a shape out of it and smooth it and refine it.  And all the time, you have to keep asking the question:  ‘What happens next?’  But once that’s done, there’s a blueprint to work from.
            Parts of the plot certainly change during the actual writing – I like it when that happens, because it usually means the story and the people are taking on a life of their own, and driving the plot along.  And quite often an unexpected twist presents itself, so that you think – ‘Oh, I didn’t see that possibility – will it work…?’  Then it’s a frantic scramble back through earlier chapters to see if you can make it work.

Q When embarking on a new book what area of the book challenges you the most?  And conversely do you have a favourite part of the writing process?
A There’s nothing quite like those first few moments when you type Chapter One.  It’s exciting and scary – you’re taking the first step of a journey into unknown, untested territory, and even though you’ve got a rough sat-nav (ie the synopsis), it’s more akin to those old maps that say, ‘Here be dragons’ in the unexplored areas.  Because you don’t really know what you might encounter or who you might meet.   The first sentence is always a challenge.  An author has about ten seconds to grab a potential reader’s attention, and if the first sentence (OK, maybe the first couple) doesn’t do it, that reader will close the book and be lost. So I do take a lot of trouble over the opening lines. Around Chapter Four or Five I often get dreadfully bogged down – usually because the threads of the story have been laid down, and the people introduced, and it’s time to pick up those threads and start weaving them into the action. That’s the point at which I usually announce I’m written out and that even if the book is ever finished, in any case it will be the worst book I’ve ever written. For me, what I call the ‘link’ scenes are often quite hard, too – the scenes that take the reader from one high-tension incident to the next.  You can’t have full-pelt tension all the time, and the quieter, inbetween scenes have to be interesting. But I absolutely love it when the first draft is done and I can start at the beginning again – take the book by the scruff of the neck and re-shape it and polish it – re-sequence parts to maintain tension, write in extra scenes, trim any repetition.
Q I see your recent series, featuring, Nell West, and the Oxford don, Michael Flint, I see are classed as ‘Ghost books’. Prior to that you published eight ‘psychological thrillers.’  But realising that you have been published since 1982 I went back to look at some of your earlier work and found that you wrote six ‘supernatural thrillers’ under the name of Frances Gordon.  Of the books I have read all of them seem to me to have an  ‘unexplained’ element. Who decides what  labels to use, You or the publishers?
 A         The labels are the publishers’ labels in all cases.  I think publishers like to pigeon-hole authors, so that readers know what they’re getting.  The use of the Frances Gordon pseudonym at the time was to differentiate those six books from others I’d written even earlier – some fantasy and some very light historical fiction.  I’m pleased, though, that those six FG titles have recently been made available again as e-Books.

Q I understand that you and author Maureen Carter formed the ‘Lethal Ladies’. How did that come about?
A I think Maureen would agree that it sort of sneaked up on us.  One week we were discussing authors who form groups for talks/workshops, and the next week we realised we had talked ourselves into doing the same thing.  It’s been a good thing for us: we like appearing as a double act and since we write quite different kinds of books (Maureen’s are sharp, taut, police procedurals), we think we’re able to give two different (and hopefully interesting) viewpoints on writing.

Thank you so much Sarah. It is fascinating to learn how your stories came about.  I look forward to reading The Silence.

Nell West, and Michael Flint Books
Property of a Lady
The Sin Eater

Pyschological Thrillers                                                     
House of the Lost                                                                              
What Lies Beneath
Ghost Song
Death Chamber
Spider Light Changeling

Written as Frances Gordon
Blood Ritual
The Devil’s Piper                                                                                        
The Burning altar

For more information on Sarah Rayne visit her web site