@BloodyScotland Preview – A Fine House In Trinity – Lesley Kelly

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BLURB: LONGLISTED FOR THE McILVANNEY PRIZE 2016
Joseph Staines, an unemployed chef, has left Edinburgh with the tallybook of the late debt collector, Isa Stoddart. Her son Lachie thinks Stainsie killed her, but Lachie has apparently committed suicide. To his surprise, Stainsie is the sole beneficiary of Lachie’s will and has inherited a dilapidated mansion. Isa’s debtors and the local priest who paid Stainsie to leave town want him gone. A certain young mum, Marianne (whose uncle, Wheezy, is Stainsie’s drinking buddy) does too, and his old school-friend, Detective Sergeant Jamieson, wants to interrogate him about the deaths. Why are the lawyers lying to him, and who is the bruiser asking about him down the pub?

Another review, from earlier this year this time, of a book which ended up on the McIlvanney Prize Longlist, but, sadly, didn’t make the final four – although, in mitigation, the standard of books this year is very high. But it puts Ms. Kelly’s name on the map, and, as I say at the end of the review, this one is highly recommended.

This book is quite a difficult one to review, without giving too much away, but here goes. It’s essentially the story of Stainsie, our down-on-his-luck hero who likes the odd drink; there’s also various time slips, where we learn about his past. (Note: it’s not the sort of timeslip novel which features two beautiful girls, born centuries apart, a manor house, and a secret.) Well actually that’s not true – there is a secret. Who killed scheme matriarch Isa Stoddart: money lender, runner of protection rackets, drug dealer, and goodness knows what else. The job of solving it falls to Stainsie – mainly because everyone on the scheme is firing his name in, and because the lady of his dreams, Marianne, thinks she was responsible as she had a wee rammy with Isa just before  her death. Initially given money through a collection made by the priest round the scheme to get out of town so the blame falls on him, Stainsie, for once, returns to find the real culprit. One of the reasons Stainsie seems to be a likely candidate is because he’s inherited Isa’s mansion (the house of the title), due to the subsequent death of her son, who only had one friend – Stainsie, who he’s known since primary school. Luckily, DS Jamieson – another member of that class, coincidentally – knows he didn’t do it as he was sleeping off a big session in one of Edinburgh’s finest police stations. Accompanied at times by his good friend Wheeze, who also struggles to pass a pub, but is barred from all those on Leith Walk as he keeps winning their general knowledge quizzes and emptying the machines, he sets out to investigate. Because if the police can’t find the killer, he figures it’s up to him. And it might just get him in the good books again with the delicious Marianne…who also happens to be Wheezy’s niece.

But his problems increase when a second body, from approximately 30 years previously, that of a female aged 14-25, is found. A girl appears with Marianne at the priest’s house where he’s staying and announces she knows who it is – but as one of the timeslip sections show, Stainsie already has a pretty good idea of who the girl is – and who was responsible for her premature death.

Throughout the book, Stainsie has to come to terms with what has happened because he stood by and let it, rather than standing up and doing the right thing. And now he has the opportunity to do something worthwhile, will he succeed? And how will a guy who can’t refuse a drink cope when he’s up against the laddies-with-pit bulls who see Isa Stoddart’s empire as theirs by rights – as well as the new guy in town who’s not afraid to use a blade to get his message across, that message being, the empire is mine now. Stainsie isn’t remotely interested in Isa’s crime empire, but the house certainly looks like it’s worth a few quid – enough for a fresh start.

Stainsie’s story, although told with all the wit of the best pub comedian you’ve ever heard, is a sad and all too familiar one, of a life going downhill, particularly when his wife and children leave him for a better life. His only solace is in alcohol; his only friend Wheezy, and (possibly) the ex-soldier hardcore priest.

A Fine House In Trinity is a welcome addition to the Tartan Noir scene, providing as it does a more light-hearted approach to solving a crime. Lesley Kelly is a fine writer, entertaining us throughout. The near-300 pages are deceptive, as this is a book perfect for romping through in one sitting. I look forward to seeing what this talented lady does next.

Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Sandstone Press, in exchange for an honest review.

@BloodyScotland Preview – The Special Dead – Lin Anderson

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BLURB: When Mark Howitt is invited back to Leila’s flat and ordered to strip, he thinks he’s about to have the experience of his life. Waking later he finds Leila gone from his side. Keen to leave, he opens the wrong door and finds he’s entered a nightmare; behind the swaying Barbie dolls that hang from the ceiling is the body of the girl he just had sex with. Rhona Macleod’s forensic investigation of the scene reveals the red plaited silk cord used to hang Leila to be a cingulum, a Wiccan artifact used in sex magick. Sketches of sexual partners hidden in the dolls provide a link to nine powerful men, but who are they? As the investigation continues, it looks increasingly likely that other witches will be targeted too. Working the investigation is the newly demoted DS Michael McNab, who is keen to stay sober and redeem himself with Rhona, but an encounter with Leila’s colleague and fellow Wiccan Freya Devine threatens his resolve. Soon McNab realizes Freya may hold the key to identifying the men linked to the dolls, and the Nine will do anything to keep their identities a secret.

I actually reviewed this book last year, but as it was one of the ten longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize – although it didn’t make the cut for the final four – I thought it was a perfect time to revisit the review!

First of all, the subject matter of this novel absolutely fascinated me – I must confess I have little truck with things that can’t be proven by science. Mr C has a current obsession with all these ghost hunter programmes, which I think are bunkum. I’m with Edith Wharton – I’ve never seen a ghost but I’m frightened of them! Add to that list astrology, fortune tellers, mediums, angels, etc. You get the picture. I’m a cynic. But Wicca isn’t used to cast any bizarre spells – unless it’s in the hands of Leila, our victim, who we don’t meet for very long as she’s been hanged with a cingulum – in a room filled with 27 Barbie dolls, arranged in a square grid according to hair colour.

This is the tenth Lin Anderson book, and in this one, after the events of the previous book (which I SO must read!), things are slightly awkward with DS Michael MacNab and Dr Rhona MacLeod, due to this secret that’s festering between them (I don’t want to spoiler any of the series as I suspect you may want to read the ones you haven’t – in order, preferably!😉 as I tell you more about this one!)

Leila was dabbling in the controversial (and allegedly powerful) branch of Wicca called “sex magick” (sounded a bit Aleister Crowley to me – simply a way of seducing beautiful women into sleeping with him, with the help of some drink and drugs.) But secreted inside each creepy, clacking doll they find a crudely drawn naked caricature, illustrated with tattoos, scars, and jewellery. They’re presumed to be pictures of men with whom Leila had slept, as each paper is marked with a smear of sperm of the man. It’s useful forensically, but only once you have a subject to test – unless of course the person is already in the system. Is it as simple as it looks – did Mark Howitt kill her in an alcoholic blackout? Or is there more to it? Was his choice as Leila’s partner for the evening as random as it appeared?

As ever, DS MacNab is the most effective investigator and undoubted star, but there are plenty of examples of teamwork and investigative detail which, combined with Rhona’s forensics, make for an exciting, detailed and compelling tale. However, he’s still nursing a bit of a broken heart over Rhona. This causes him to become far too involved with Freya, one of Leila’s friends who’s been a useful witness. Rhona, our forensic investigator, is now seeing Sean, an Irish musician who owns (and plays in) his own jazz bar in upmarket Ashton Lane (I rather liked the dynamic between them. And I do know I should really root for MacNab…) Also working alongside them, at Rhona’s initial suggestion, is Professor Magnus Pirie, who is a forensic psychologist with excellent knowledge of witchcraft.

However, Leila’s friends are now in danger from the killer, including Freya. Leila’s brother, Danny, also refuses to come in and talk to them – but is he a suspect, or a scared would-be victim? And who are these nine powerful men? Are they so well-connected they could actually persuade someone in police custody the best thing they can do is commit suicide? And if they can, will these men ever be brought to justice – or are they so well-connected a trial would be in jeopardy?

If Paths Of The Dead, the previous book, which was one of the six nominated for Deanstons Bloody Scotland Crime Book Of The Year, as it was known in 2015, is anything like that this one, I’m: a) dying to read it (and any others I may have missed out on); and b) not in the least surprised it was nominated. I’m not surprised this one was nominated this year, either, so skilfully does Lin manipulate us through the 434 pages with nary a lull. Obviously it was helped by the fact I found all the Wicca detail fascinating – of which there is a perfect amount; she’s researched this exceptionally well, and we’re never bogged down or bored. I found it incredibly interesting, much to my surprise.

This one’s definitely worth a read, so add it to your TBR lists now. There’s a great dramatic climax, and some excellent misdirection, although the eagle-eyed among you may spot one of the nine. Lin Anderson’s come a long way since I bought Driftnet – do yourself a favour and if you haven’t already done so, you do the investigating, and seek out Dr Rhona MacLeod and DS Michael MacNab.

This copy was provided by the publisher MacMillan, in exchange for an unbiased review.

Blog Tour – Kill Me Twice – Anna Smith

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BLURB: ‘Thrilling and compelling’ – Kimberley Chambers. A gritty, breakneck thriller for fans of Jessie Keane.

A beautiful model’s death uncovers an ugly conspiracy stretching all the way to Westminster in Rosie Gilmour’s darkest case to date. When rags-to-riches Scots supermodel Bella Mason plunges to her death from the roof of a glitzy Madrid hotel, everyone assumes it was suicide. Except that one person saw exactly what happened to Bella that night, and she definitely didn’t jump. But Millie Chambers has no one she can tell – alcoholic, depressed herself and now sectioned by her bullying politician husband, who would believe her? And that’s not all Millie knows. Being close to the heart of Westminster power can lead to discovering some awful secrets…Back in Glasgow, Rosie’s research into Bella’s life leads to her brother, separated from her in care years before. Dan is now a homeless heroin addict and rent boy, but what he reveals about Bella’s early life is electrifying: organised sexual abuse in care homes across Glasgow. Bella had tracked him down so that they could tell the world their story. And now she’s dead…As Rosie’s drive to expose the truth leads her closer to Millie and the shameful secrets she has kept for so many years, it becomes clear that what she’s about to discover could prove fatal: a web of sexual abuse linking powerful figures across the nation, and the rot at the very heart of the British Establishment…

I was slightly dubious about reading this book, as some of the writers Anna Smith was compared to (Kimberley Chambers and Mandasue Heller) are not authors I’m huge fans of. However, I needn’t have worried. Perhaps it was the fact that the book was set mostly in Glasgow, and with a lot of Glaswegian characters, but it also helped that I was plunged right into an exciting and fast-moving story straight from the off.

The blurb above tells you all you need to know about the story. It’s obviously topical, not just in the abuse of power by men in powerful places, but when talking about the extent that the heroin explosion from the ’90s onwards has wreaked havoc in huge forgotten swathes of the city – the bits they didn’t want you to see when the Commonwealth Games were on TV. But it’s not just the (not) working classes, where unemployment and drug and/or alcohol abuse are into their third generation, who suffer from drug problems – Bella, a millionaire model, uses cocaine to dull the memory of her abuse at the hands of the older men, and put on the bright energetic professional persona that’s nothing but a façade. However, she’s tiring of it, and her threats to go to the police about the abuse are what’s led to the “accident” that caused her death. Dan, her brother (although that identity’s a closely guarded secret) smokes heroin to shut out his memories. Then there’s Millie, who drinks too much so she can cope with her emotionally and physically abusive husband, and the fact she can’t have children. She also is aware of some explosive secrets from her husband’s time as Home Secretary. They all use different substances to obtain the same result.

Dan’s only real mate is Mitch, who approaches Rosie Gilmour, journalist and star of the series, about the fact that Bella has a secret brother. She’s already covering the story, and knows Millie Chambers was on the roof when Bella went over. Rosie’s editor, McGuire, always warns her that she gets too involved in stories, and this is true, particularly when it comes to Mitch and Dan. I don’t think it’s possible to be so soft-hearted and be a journalist; eventually you would develop a protective shell. You just have to.

Of course, there are people who don’t want Dan or Millie’s story told, and they have the financial wherewithal to hire people to do their bidding. Rosie finds herself fighting to keep her sources from being taken away from her, or in Dan’s case, killed.

Anna Smith’s years working for the Daily Record, which has for many years been the biggest selling paper in Scotland, aiming for the working class market, means she’s probably met and interviewed everyone from politicians to drug addicts. This definitely shows in her writing, particularly her dialogue, which rings very true. This is the sort of book I think Book Addict Shaun would greatly enjoy – as would anyone who’s looking for a fast-moving, topical, but not heavy-going, read with a cast of believable characters. I intend to keep my eyes open for other “Rosie Gilmour” books – this is the seventh, but works fine as a standalone.

Highly recommended.

With many thanks to Quercus Books for the e-book from NetGalley to review.

Blog Tour – A Deadly Thaw – Sarah Ward

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BLURB: ‘Gives the Scandi authors a run for their money.’ Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Every secret has consequences.

Autumn 2004 – In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016 – A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . .

A Deadly Thaw confirms Sarah Ward’s place as one of the most exciting new crime writers.

First of all, it’s an honour and a huge pleasure to kick off the Blog Tour to promote Sarah Ward’s second book. A Deadly Thaw, the follow-up to the wonderful debut In Bitter Chill, is one of the most anticipated books of 2016, for me, at least. I had little doubt that Ward would be able to follow up her first book in style, and I’m delighted to say I was right – in fact, in my humble opinion, A Deadly Thaw is actually the better book. But I’ll get to why that is in a moment.

The big mystery at the beginning of the book is why, and who – why would Lena kill this man and identify him as being her husband? And who is this man, whose remains were cremated, leaving no DNA?

Like In Bitter Chill, this book takes a trip into the past, where the beginning of the mystery lies – the ’80s, in this case. This is something I really enjoy in books, and when the author’s roughly the same age as you, as I think is the case with Sarah Ward and me, there’s plenty of memories that these trips into the past bring back. Back then, the two sisters were much closer, sharing every secret. They, and a third girl, Steph, would go out clubbing to the only place in Bampton that let them in, a meat market called Ups And Downs (there was one here – called the Mantrap!) Then, in her mid-teens, Lena withdrew from Kat, and refused to leave home for university despite her obvious talent for, and love of, art. When Lena is released from prison, she returns to the now-dilapidated family home where Kat still lives, struggling to keep it from falling down around her ears with her income as a counsellor. Things remain the same – Lena is unwilling to talk about anything that doesn’t suit her, particularly her crime. Then the real Andrew Fisher is found dead, and the police come to question Lena, as she has to be a prime suspect. When they return the next day, she’s disappeared, without a word to Kat.

That’s as much as can be said about plot, without getting into spoiler territory, but it’s a fantastically mystifying plot for the reader, and the police. It’s wonderful to see the three main police officers return – DI Francis Sadler, DS Damian Palmer, and my personal favourite, DC Connie Childs. We continue to follow their personal lives, with some intriguing developments on that front!

As the storyline unraveled I was utterly glued to the book, as I couldn’t in any way comprehend Lena’s crime. Lena is an utterly infuriating character – she keeps secrets, and makes assumptions about other people, as if she’s the only person in a position to deal with them. It’s as she had some kind of martyr complex. In the end, this would put people in danger.

This has a much more complex storyline than her debut, and there’s a topical touch to it. It shows Ward’s growing confidence and maturity as a writer. On the strength of her first two novels, I can easily see her developing into one of the big names in crime fiction. Definitely one for crime fans to buy as soon as possible!

Released1September.

My thanks to Faber for my review copy.

Follow the Blog Tour – at http://kiwicrime.blogspot.co.uk tomorrow!

Blog Tour – The Devil’s Daughters – Diana Bretherick

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BLURB: 1888. When young Scottish scientist James Murray receives a letter from Sofia Esposito, a woman he once loved and lost, he cannot refuse her cry for help. Sofia’s fifteen-year-old cousin has vanished but, because of her lower-class status, the police are unwilling to investigate.

Accompanied by his younger sister Lucy, Murray returns to the city of Turin where he was once apprenticed to the world-famous criminologist, Cesare Lombroso. As he embarks on his search for the missing girl, Murray uncovers a series of mysterious disappearances of young women and rumours of a haunted abbey on the outskirts of the city.

When the body of one of the girls turns up bearing evidence of a satanic ritual, Murray begins to slot together the pieces of the puzzle. But as two more bodies are discovered, fear grips the city and a desperate hunt begins to find a truly terrifying killer before he claims his next victim.

THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTERS is the gripping new novel from Diana Bretherick, author of CITY OF DEVILS. A must-read tale of murder and intrigue, perfect for fans of CJ Sansom, Antonia Hodgson and Elizabeth Fremantle.

I’m a day late posting this, as the paperback copy posted to me did not appear, so I ended up buying it on Kindle!

It’s very enjoyable – a fast-moving romp of a mystery set in Turin, as was the author’s first novel, which won the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition. I know it’s something of an gardening-and-baking read, but their book pages are damn good (I always read them in the doctor’s!) I’ve had Diana’s debut, City Of Devils, on my Wish List, which I check intermittently to see if anything’s been reduced – but irritatingly that book hasn’t!

Fortunately one doesn’t need to have read the first novel to gain full enjoyment from this one – there’s just enough information given to whet your appetite on it, and fill in the info on the characters in this one, and their relationships to each other. James Murray, our hero, has returned from Turin to his home in Edinburgh for his father’s funeral. He’d been working in Italy with the eccentric Professor Lombroso (who really did exist) and Ottolenghi in the nascent field of criminal anthropology. The latter had become a close friend and confidant. He’d also embarked on a love affair with a girl Lombroso had rescued from prostitution, Sofia, but she’d ended the affair as she knew it could never be a permanent match due to their class differences.

However, shortly after his return home he receives a note from Sofia begging him for help. Knowing he cannot abandon his sister Lucy again to a dull life of churchgoing and good works with their Aunt Agnes, he takes her with him, accompanied by a Miss Euphemia Trott, a chaperone chosen by their aunt. But it seems Miss Trott may have secrets in Turin, as Lucy, a keen writer and reader of detective fiction, observes.

Sofia’s problem is more serious – her cousin, Chiara, has disappeared, as have five other girls. As they are of the lower classes, the police are dismissive and claim they must have moved on in search of better work. But Sofia knew Chiara wouldn’t leave her.

As well as this investigation, James and Ottolenghi are dragged into one of Lombroso’s typically hair-brained schemes – investigating psychic phenomena, as lights and noises had been observed at night coming from an abandoned abbey, where occult rituals involving young girls had taken place a century ago, and the place closed down. Whilst there, they discover a body of a young girl in a room in a crypt which contained mummified monks. This is shortly after a young girl’s mummified remains were found nearby in a shallow grave, with her entrails removed and put in a pot, Egyptian-style. This was shown to them by Lombroso’s friend, the policeman, Inspector Tullio, to see if Lombroso had any theories. Further bodies are found, but Chiara remains missing. Another of his experiments involves measuring the bodies, skulls, etc. of prostitutes, which brings them into contact with the dangerous Signora Concetta Panetta, a dangerous woman who appears to have a fascination with James. While doing this experiment, they hear the girls talk of a couple of their colleagues going missing – but it’s made clear by the other madam this is definitely not to be talked about.

This is hugely enjoyable as a historical mystery – Lombroso is hilariously eccentric (every chapter is headed with a quote from his book), and definitely the star of the book. He is always quick to take credit for someone else’s idea – “Exactly, Murray, I wondered when you’d think of that!”, and so on. There is also a woman who works in criminal anthropology, Madame Anna Tarnovsky, who’s come to share some of her findings with Lombroso. Despite being highly competent, she’s often sidelined by Lombroso when it suits him, because he’s frightened of her intelligence, and because she’s a woman, of course, and so has inferior intellect…!

James, desperately trying to find Chiara, and in the process perhaps win Sofia back, finds himself the target of a campaign to tarnish his name – and later, worse, presumably because he’s getting too close to something someone wants kept hidden. His sister Lucy I just found irritating, but the quiet yet competent Miss Trott added to the various mysteries unfolding.

As more girls go missing – this time from higher social standing – the police are forced to investigate. And the denouement is suitably depraved and grisly, with a most surprising person saving the day.

This is a rollicking good read, with few dull moments. One thing – I didn’t feel as though I got to know Turin much – perhaps there’s more detail in the first novel? And the end sets it up nicely for a third book in the series – but only for those who survived this one, of course!

Own copy.

Blog Tour – Ash And Bones – Mike Thomas

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BLURB: A cop killer on the loose in Cardiff – introducing a dark and gritty new voice in crime fiction, perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride and David Mark

At a squalid flat near the Cardiff docks, an early morning police raid goes catastrophically wrong when the police aren’t the only unexpected guests. A plain clothes officer is shot dead at point blank range, the original suspect is left in a coma. The killer, identity unknown, slips away.

Young and inexperienced, Will MacReady starts his first day on the CID. With the city in shock and the entire force reeling, he is desperate to help ­- but unearths truths that lead the team down an increasingly dark path…

I really enjoyed this new (to me, at least) voice in crime fiction. As it was written by someone who was on the job for more than 20 years, you know that all the nuts and bolts of police work are in their correct places (see below for Mike’s excellent list of screw-ups he’s come across in crime fiction – I came across number 6 just last week, but I won’t name and shame anyone!) It’s more than that though – he’s got an interesting, and plausible plot, which kept me guessing til the conclusion. In Will McReady, he’s got a sympathetic lead character, who, when the book begins, is on his first day in CID. He’s got an interesting backstory, in that he could – potentially – have ended up in trouble himself. His father, a violent bully to Will and his brother when they were younger, is now “over the wall” for murder, and his brother looks like he’s got the same temper as his father. Will is often being called out by uniform to his brother Stuart’s house, as the neighbours have rang them due to Stuart and his other half screaming and fighting with each other, with their three small children in the middle of it all. This invariably means Will has to put him up until things calm down – much to Megan’s chagrin. Will also bails them out by paying half their rent each month, and that, coupled with the money he and his wife Megan have paid out for IVF, has left him skint. He and Megan are drifting apart due to his inability to father a child – the one thing Megan desperately wants.

But enough about Will himself – to the story! It opens, intriguingly, in Nigeria, with a young man delivering a boy – for payment – to an orphanage called the Baobab Tree House – a place with a reputation of having less than altruistic motives. There’s further small portions throughout the book following the boy’s story – in a clinic in Portugal; on a private plane…But it’s in Cardiff where the vast majority of the action takes place. The cop who was shot, Garratt, had a reputation for going off and doing things solo – well, almost solo, so he could lap up the accolades. For example, on that bust, which was meant to bring in one of the city’s most wanted, Leon King, there were only three of them – no back-up, and no armed response. King wasn’t thought to have access to firearms. But someone in the house did, and shot Garratt dead, as well as shooting Leon King, leaving him in a coma and unable to help the police out (although doubtless he wouldn’t have, anyway!)

One of their few leads is that the DNA of a young man called Jermaine Tate was found in the flat in question, but there’s no way of knowing how long it’s been there. Other evidence taken from the flat leads them to another young man called Dane Sillitoe, but he’s been out of trouble for 14 months and claims to have gone straight, working for his father’s limo and private ambulance firm.

Will does “go rogue” a few times, but it’s nothing too unbelievable – he just thinks outside the box a bit; uses local knowledge he gained while in uniform; and looks at conversations as possibly having another meaning than initially assumed. The team are also a likeable lot – DI Fletcher and DS Beck are interesting characters with great potential, whereas DC Harrison can’t resist any opportunity to eat. Touches of humour throughout and banter between colleagues lighten up the story.

The final, short part, appropriately titled Things Fall Apart, given that we started in Nigeria, and that things really do go to hell in a handcart in this part, had me frantically turning the pages to get to the conclusion – a definite sign of quality in crime fiction.

There’s plenty of potential here, so it’s great to see it’s the first in a series featuring Will. Also, another of Thomas’s books, Ugly Bus (no, me neither!), is in development with the BBC to become a six-part series. It looks like Mike Thomas will definitely be a name to watch, so do the sensible thing and get in there at the start! You know you want to!

Keep following the Blog Tour, which will be stopping off at the fabulous lizlovesbooks.com tomorrow!

Now, Mike has kindly contributed his (very amusing) list of:

Ten Things To Avoid In Crime Novels

I spent more than two decades as a cop, and read little in the way of crime – after a twelve hour shift, reading the latest grisly police procedural was about as appealing as dealing with another Sudden Death incident where the putrid corpse was a sunk-into-the-carpet three month old mess. Now I’m no longer a plod, and writing them myself, it’s been interesting to see the police patois and terminology that ends up in contemporary UK crime novels. How much of it rings true? What should you avoid for your next twisty-turny magnum opus? What words or phrases are guaranteed to jolt me out of an otherwise deftly-plotted thriller? Here’s some – hopefully – helpful pointers from a cop-turned-crime-writer.

  1. ‘Squad car’. You mean a response car, response vehicle, or an IRV (Incident Response Vehicle or Immediate Response Vehicle). Cops just don’t call their patrol vehicles ‘squad cars’. You can still use ‘panda car’, as it is still heard on occasion. Squad car? Nope.
  2. He turned and handed the file to a WPC.’ WPC? Woman Police Officer? Female coppers haven’t been referred to as WPCs for twenty years now. So don’t use the prefix in your book, okay? Okay.
  3. Lawyer. ‘She asked for her lawyer.’ ‘He refused to speak until he had a lawyer.’ This ain’t America, dude. British cops and robbers rarely use lawyer in this context, because the term refers to the bewigged barristers who love to hear their own voices in Crown Court, not the slick-suited men and women who turn up at custody suites at all hours, laden with fags and ‘sammiches’ for their clients. Instead, use ‘solicitor’, ‘defence solicitor’, ‘sol’, ‘defence sol’ or even ‘brief’.
  4. Be mindful of force areas and boundaries – it jars when your protagonist (who works for, say, Hampshire Constabulary) is investigating a large scale incident in Bristol at the start of your novel. This would never happen. It would be an Avon and Somerset matter (it is their ‘patch’), and quite possibly involve drug dealing (Bristol city centre) or something to do with worrying livestock (everywhere else in their force area).
  5. Vernacular for rank. Get it right. I read a (best-selling) crime novel recently that had a Police Sergeant being referred to as ‘Ma’am’. Female inspectors are called ‘Ma’am’, or often just ‘inspector’. A police sergeant, regardless of gender, is ‘Sarge’. And cops never, ever refer to senior ranks as ‘superiors’ – this is a real no-no. ‘Senior officers’ will do. Or, with a curled lip, ‘rankers’. Yes, it rhymes.
  6. The Detective Superintendent looked at him and said, ‘You keep this up Sergeant, and I’ll promote you to inspector.’’ Aaaargh. This would NEVER, EVER HAPPEN. Supers can’t promote anyone. Inspectors can’t promote sergeants. Sergeants cannot promote constables. Exams and promotion boards are the only way. If your protagonist is a detective constable, they will have to sit and pass the sergeant’s exam, then face a board, and if promoted to sergeant spend at least a year back in uniform on response – if there are any vacancies across the force – to learn the roles and responsibilities of the new rank. Only then can they apply for CID, and will only get a post if they pass an interview and if there is a vacancy. This can take a couple of years. So, in short, your detective has to jump through a lot of hoops (and suffer at least a year ‘back in the cloth’ of uniform) to attain the next CID rank.
  7. Interviews. You can’t just ‘have a quick chat’ about their involvement in the case with a suspect in the back of a car, or in his cell, or while sitting in one of the station’s designated interview rooms (never ‘interrogation room’, which I have read in published novels). They must be formally arrested and cautioned, or at the very least cautioned before questions are asked and notes taken. They must have the offer of a ‘brief’ to look after them. These ‘quick chats’ lead to complications later on if it goes to court, when cases can be thrown out due to failure to comply with PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act).
  8. The Detective Sergeant sat in the public gallery of Crown Court Five, listening as his Inspector gave evidence. Nervous that he was up in the witness box next.’ Your DS hasn’t given evidence yet? Then he wouldn’t be allowed in the courtroom. Those TV shows that have the entire investigating team sitting and nodding along to the prosecution barrister, even before they’ve sworn on the good book? Never happen.
  9. You can’t have your grizzled, grumpy yet straighter-than-straight Detective Chief Superintendent threaten your cunning yet iconoclastic hero cop protagonist – because, you know, they’re always butting heads – with ‘If you keep this up you’re finished in Cardiff. I’ll transfer you to Hull.’ Even the Chief Constable can’t do this. The Home Secretary can’t do this, for goodness’ sake. It involves different forces. Different stations, shifts, workloads. Cops aren’t pawns on a big crimey-crime chessboard thing, endlessly moveable or disposable. This, again, would never, ever happen.
  10. Forensics. You’ve got a great scene: your Detective Inspector protagonist, perched on a settee in her expensive pant suit, is staring at the body on the lounge floor while ruminating on the depravities human beings are capable of, her mind whirring as she tries to fit together the clues, the civvy CSIs moving around her, taking photos, videos, dusting for latent prints oh no sorry she wouldn’t even be there. Get her out of the room – she’s contaminating the crime scene. Crime scenes are sacred. Everyone who is allowed to enter will be wearing paper booties, hair nets, face masks, gloves. A uniform on the door will sign everyone in and out. If you have no business being there, you won’t be allowed in. So that lovely, moving chapter where your DI walks the house, checking every room, absorbing it all? Nope. See also: detectives picking up pieces of evidence WITH BARE HANDS, looking at it closely (breathing on it, dropping saliva and skin flakes and hairs), then PASSING IT TO A COLLEAGUE SO THEY CAN DO THE SAME. No. Just no. Always remember Locard’s Principle. And never have your hero contaminate the scene. A good cop – hopefully your cop in your story – would never do it.

 

Blog Tour – Silent Scream – Angela Marsons

Product Details

BLURB: Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult-sized hole would have taken longer. An innocent life had been taken but the pact had been made. Their secrets would be buried, bound in blood…
Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country

But when human remains are discovered at a former children’s home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed. D.I. Kim Stone fast realises she’s on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades.
As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it’s too late?

Now this book is available in paperback – and it’s sold one million copies internationally, an incredible amount for any novel – it’s time to revisit my thoughts on Silent Scream.

When I first read this, when it was only available as an eBook, the main surprise was the fact that this was a debut novel; it read like it came from the pen of a seasoned crime writer. Back then it was Bookouture’s first foray into crime, and they unearthed a corker of an author.

It’s thus far a four book series featuring DI Kim Stone, a complex character – her closest, indeed only friend, is DS Bryant (whose first name, as far as I can ascertain, we never learn.) Having grown up in care after her (possibly schizophrenic) mother left her and her twin brother Mikey to die in horrendous circumstances (which Mikey did), she decided to never let anyone close. When a couple who wanted to adopt her when she was around 12 were killed in a car accident, Kim’s wall came down again – this time seemingly for good. She spends her time rebuilding motorcycles, and listening to classical music – but most of the time, she works.

This case must have triggered harrowing memories for Kim. It begins with the death of a private school principal, Teresa Wyatt, by drowning – and not naturally. Then a recovering alcoholic, Tom Curtis, finds a bottle of expensive malt on his kitchen table. He knows another drink will kill him, but can’t resist. However, before he can finish it, his throat is cut. Investigations into the victims’ pasts reveal a link – they both worked at the same time at Crestwood House, which was a home for particularly troubled girls in the care system, until it was gutted by fire in 2004. These murders are taking place just when local archaeologist Professor Milton has been given the go-ahead to excavate the grounds, in the hope of finding valuable coins. There have been objections launched by a local lawyer’s firm, and, before she died, Teresa Wyatt, the school principal had contacted Professor Milton. But then his dog was poisoned, and, terrified, he went into hiding. Someone clearly doesn’t want any digging to be done in the grounds of Crestwood House – which makes Kim and her team, which also comprises DC Stacey Wood and DS Kevin Dawson, all the more determined to unearth the secret that someone is prepared to kill to keep…The Prof, plus Cerys Hughes, an archaeologist and forensic scientist, and Dr David Matthews, are brought in to see what exactly someone will kill to keep hidden, plus forensic pathologist Dr Daniel Bate arrives to examine the bones they find (from the prologue, we know a body was buried, and that five people were involved in the burial, so that’s not a spoiler!) A few sparks fly between Kim and Dr Bate – a possible love interest for her in future books? (If she’ll allow him to get close…!) Kim and Bryant go to work tracking down other ex-staff members who may be in danger, but also who may be able to shed light on why former staff are being targeted – and, needless to say, who just might be suspects themselves. Stacey’s job is to find any of the residents from back then, who may recall something crucial. She locates Nicola Adamson, an “exotic dancer” who lives well from her earnings in an upmarket “gentleman’s club”, and she does her best to help with figuring out who may be buried in the grounds. Her twin sister, Beth, though, later appears at the station, and is decidedly unhelpful, telling Kim to keep her sister out of the investigation – which only piques Kim’s interest more. Why would one twin sister object to aiding the enquiry, when the other is doing her best to help?

Needless to say, there are more murders, as well as attempts at murder, and Kim and her team realise they are in a race against a very determined – and it must be said, very lucky – killer…No-one appears to see them coming and going. They could be a ghost for all the traces they leave behind…

It’ll be interesting to discover if Kim is always this driven, or if it’s because this particular case holds a personal interest. She remembers being a child in care: “She knew the pain of these girls’ past. Not one of them had woken up and chosen the future mapped out for them. Their behaviour could not be traced back to an absolute year, month, day and time. It was a progressive journey of peaks and troughs until circumstances eventually stifled hope.

“It was never the big things. Kim remembered only ever being called ‘child’. All of them had been called ‘child’ so the staff didn’t have to remember their names.”

And regarding the case: “Kim would not fail these girls because damn it, they mattered to someone. They bloody well mattered to her.”

The end of the book, as expected, surprises – I wasn’t sure “whodunit”, so cleverly did Marsons leave the possibilities open. There’s also plenty of drama and danger, when Kim, true to nature, heads off to do some solo investigation. Then, just when you’re satisfied you know what happened, Marsons throws another curve ball. And true to crime fiction “rules”, the clues are peppered throughout the book.

Kim, her team, and DCI “Woody” Woodward, her boss, are interesting characters, with potential for further “fleshing out”. They have their little quirks – like Woody’s need for a stress ball whenever Kim is in his office, and his hobby of building model cars. He clearly knows Kim’s driven, but also is aware she occasionally goes off piste – but, as she gets results, he’s willing to protect her, to a certain extent, from those above, the paper-pushers and the budget-conscious. Kim also has a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way, with her abrasive, straight-to-the-point interview style, and has no truck with handling well-connected members of society with kid gloves. This investigation includes a politically and legally well-connected local family who may hold part of the key to this case, but, with Woody’s support, Kim has no qualms about treating them like everyone else, much to their chagrin.

The next book in the series is called Evil Games, followed by Lost Girls, then Play Dead, and my advice would be to catch up with DI Kim Stone and her team, with the books in the right order if you can – that’s if you’re one of the few crime fiction fans that hasn’t already!

4.5 out of 5

With thanks to Zaffre Books for sending me a paperback of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

crimeworm’s 20 Books Of Summer

 

After a great deal of thought (this is starting to sound like one of several speeches we’ve had over the last few days in the UK, isn’t it?) Rewind…I’m going to make a list of 14 books and of those, hope to read 10 of them. Any more will be a bonus. Also, there are three books I’ve been reading since the start of June; I’ll mention them at the end. It’s been an absolute bugger trying to choose the list: -should it be “worthy” books I know I should’ve read for ages?-should it be entertaining books I can (hopefully!) read in the summer sun? I’ve managed to get my (just tinted, girls!) hair covered in cobwebs, looking for books, rather like someone looking for Republican candidates would’ve been a couple of years ago (insert your own hair joke here), and then when the list seemed concluded, thought,”The Kindle!” BUT as I’m seeing this as a way to get rid of some of the Hadrian’s Wall of books in my house, the number of books from the Kindle is very small. Minute, actually.

So, without further ado… (God I overthink things don’t I? This has taken me about two weeks from fruition – that’s my decision to take part, after a lot of thought, obviously, to conclusion, as if they’re the LAST BOOKS I’ll ever read again!) Then there’s the five days before I type them in. Not really. It was four. Or six…Whatever, here it is:

  1. She Died Young – Elizabeth Wilson – (finished third)
  2. Night Film – Marisha Pessl
  3. The Blue Tango – Eoin McNamee
  4. The Dinner – Herman Koch – started
  5. A Killing Winter – Tom Callaghan – (finished fourth)
  6. Magda – Meike Ziervogel – (finished fifth)
  7. Fever City – Tim Baker – started
  8. The Stone Boy – Sophie Loubiere
  9. Dissolution – C.J. Sansom (finished first)
  10. A Very English Scandal – John Preston
  11. The Disappeared – M.R. Hall (finished second)
  12. In The Rosary Garden – Nicola White
  13. The Butcher Bird – S.D. Sykes
  14. The Skeleton Road – Val McDermid – started

And the three I’m reading right now:

  1.  A Rising Man – Abir Mukherjeereview to follow
  2. The Caveman – Jorn Lier Horst review to follow
  3. Wilde Lake – Laura Lippman review to follow

Also read (as you can see there’s a few I couldn’t wait to read!):

  1. Black Roses – Jane Thynne – review to follow
  2. His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet – review to follow
  3. Daisy In Chains – Sharon Bolton – review to follow
  4. Dead Gone – Luca Veste – review to follow
  5. The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena – review to follow

If I finish the entire list by the proscribed date – September 1st, or is it the 5th? – which is, as we all know, highly unlikely, I shall have another three books I can pick…and I will do my very, very best not to go off at a tangent and pick another book not listed here before I’ve completed the list (we all know I have a tendency to do that…)

So, there we are. A bit late but ready to roll…crimeworm’s 20 Books of Summer! Reviews as we go – ahem, hopefully! I’d love to know what you think of the list…what’s good? What’s rubbish? And if you’d like to subscribe to crimeworm, you have to roll quite far down for the wee box – but we’d love to have you!

 

Apologies due…& it’s 20 books of summer for me too!

First of all, apologies to the lovely Elena, whose blog post I inadvertently stole, due to my new Kindle Fire 2. I assumed it would be exactly the same as the old Kindle Fire, just a wee bit swankier, but non. It’s bloody indecipherably posher – although by stealing Elena’s post, I did get more hits than I’ve had ever (actually I made that up, but it did make me think how much better her page is, with all the nice Goodreads bits and other twiddly extras…so if anyone’s passing on the way to the Hebrides and would like a couch and a meal out for an evening setting all that up, you know where I am…!) Seriously, as I’ve been saying for the last, erm, two years, I must just follow the Goodreads instructions and make my page swanky too, so I look much computer whizzier too.

Next it’s over to Cathy, at 746 books, with whom most of you are familiar. I’m SO inspired by her revealing the true number of books in her house she has to read, as I know I’m not

20booksfinalthat far off the mark myself…and that’s all I’ll say about that – anyway, if there’s room for one more, I’d love to participate in 20 Books Of Summer. I don’t have a list as yet but will roam the house this evening – I am meant to be spring cleaning, so that’ll make it more enjoyable (don’t say it – we all know I’ll end up with a scribbled jotter with lots of book names and a still unused hoover. Is it just me that really, really hates laminate as, in effect, you have to clean it twice, dry, then wet?) What would make it much better would be if you could have a famous person to help once a week – what an absolute bugger Gareth Bale is tied up with some football thing in France this week! My cleaning, etc, ETC, workout would be much more effective in all round fitness – ahem…I do have three or so Blog Tours on the way until September 5th which I will include, but I’ll add my list later – which may be subject to change; you all know what I’m like. The thought of not having to read X by Friday and write about it is really quite refreshing and pressure-free…

Finally, apologies to all for not being around this last couple of weeks when I should be. Your tolerance is, as ever, massively appreciated. I do, so hope you know that. One day I’ll shoot that black dog right in the head…BANG! Until then, I’ll keep trying. Do please keep cheering me on…!

Right, the next thing is The List! I’ll probably start with 10, although I may get carried away…

Blog Tour (Part 1) -Little Bones – Sam Blake

Product Details

For fans of Alex Barclay and Niamh O’Connor, Little Bones introduces Cathy Connolly, a bright young heroine set to take the world of crime fiction by storm. Attending what seems to be a routine break-in, troubled Detective Garda Cathy Connolly makes a grisly discovery: an old wedding dress – and, concealed in its hem, a baby’s bones. And then the dress’s original owner, Lavinia Grant, is found dead in a Dublin suburb. Searching for answers, Cathy is drawn deep into a complex web of secrets and lies spun by three generations of women.
Meanwhile, a fugitive killer has already left two dead in execution style killings across the Atlantic – and now he’s in Dublin with old scores to settle. Will the team track him down before he kills again?
Struggling with her own secrets, Cathy doesn’t know dangerous – and personal – this case is about to become…

Sam Blake very generously wrote for crimeworm about some of the things that she came across in real life that ultimately led to the writing of Little Bones. (I’d also like to add that the website, Writing.ie, is incredibly useful and interesting for writers – and wannabe writers!) While my review is still to come – I’ve bought a new Kindle Fire, yay!, but it is taking a bit of getting used to – let’s make that a lot of getting used to – I can say that, so far, Little Bones is really enjoyable and hard to put down! Not really surprising, actually, given that it’s publisher is Twenty7 by Bonnier, an excellent imprint for debut writers that Cleo, Christine and myself have been raving about for the past year.

Sam Blake on Committing Murder*

(*not a personal memoir)

Murder is the ultimate crime, the taking of a life, and while we as crime writers fictionalise it and create worlds where our readers can escape and be hooked into an often complex story, I’m very cognisant that crime is all too real for many people. In 2011 I interviewed a lady called Melissa Moore who had recently written a memoir called Shattered Silence.

One day Melissa was playing with her then six year old daughter in their back garden in Spokane, Washington, and as the swing came to rest, her daughter asked an innocent question that set off a chain of events that was to bring Melissa to national TV including the Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey shows, write a bestselling book and most importantly, confront her past. That question?

‘Mommy, where’s your daddy? Everybody has a daddy. Where’s yours?’

How could Melissa admit to her daughter and to those around her that her father was serving three life sentences with no chance of parole for the brutal murder of eight women? That he had confessed (then later recanted) that he had committed 160 murders across California, Florida, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming?

Keith Hunter Jesperson, a long distance truck driver, began his killing spree in 1990, when Melissa was just 10 years old. In the next five years, he is confirmed to have killed seven women in five states before he finally murdered his then girlfriend Julie Ann Winningham and wrote a letter to his brother implicating himself. Jesperson left a trail of graffiti confessions at rest stops and restaurants across America, sending authorities and newspapers anonymous letters describing his savage murders in detail. The graffiti and letters were signed with a smiley face drawing, earning him the nickname “The Happy Face Killer.”

Melissa explained to me  ‘He was my father and didn’t have a conscience; he didn’t show remorse for the victims, I took it upon myself to feel that burden, that guilt, for him, and I didn’t realize I’d done that.’

The act of murder produces a ripple effect that devastates the lives of everyone it touches.

My husband was a member of An Garda Síochána, the Irish Police Force for thirty years and he and his colleagues have attended many incidents where violent crime has been committed. What interests me, and I hope my readers is the why, the motivation behind what makes people – and transposing that into a fictional environment – my characters, kill.

Creating believable characters is about understanding their motivation, their psychology, and as a writer I feel I have a duty to those effected by real life crime to make sure I get that right.

In a cross section of murders committed in 2011/2012 Citizens Report UK revealed that the most ‘at risk’ age group for homicide is children under a year of age. Above 16 years, the most at risk age ranges from 16 to 20, and 21 to 29. Two thirds of homicide victims in their sample were male and the most common method used for homicide was a knife or sharp instrument (approx 40%) for both men and women. The second most common method for males victims was punching or kicking; for female victims it was strangulation. Gun and firearm murders offences represented 6% of deaths.

Female victims were most likely to be killed by someone they knew (approx 78%), with around 47% of female victims being killed by a partner or ex-partner. Male victims knew their assailant around 57% of the time, being killed by a partner or ex-partner 5% of the time.

Victims under 16 were likely to know their assailant (around 70%), when the assailant was known this was in 50% of cases the parent of the victim.

Little Bones is about just that, it’s about the murder of a child, about what happens when a young detective, Cathy Connolly, finds a baby’s bones hidden in the hem of a wedding dress. Cat has her own reasons for being doubly shocked by this particular crime – she’s young, single and has recently discovered she’s pregnant. As Cat think to herself at the scene – ‘Children trusted the adults around them to provide food and warmth, love and protection. And when that trust was betrayed . . .

© Sam Blake

Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, the founder of The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and the national writing resources website Writing.ie. She is Ireland’s leading literary scout who has assisted many award winning and bestselling authors to publication. Vanessa has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book.

Little Bones is the first in the Cat Connolly Dublin based detective thriller trilogy. When a baby’s bones are discovered in the hem of a wedding dress, Detective Garda Cathy Connolly is face with a challenge that is personal as well as professional – a challenge that has explosive consequences.

Follow Sam Blake on Twitter @writersamblake or Vanessa @inkwellhq – be warned, they get tetchy with each other!