DM For Murder – Matt Bendoris

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BLURB: Ten million Twitter followers. One killer. Bryce Horrigan, a Brit made good in America, makes a living rubbing people up the wrong way. He revels in antagonising guests on his TV talk show, and the thousands of death threats he’s received on Twitter are a badge of honour. But when the controversial TV host is shot dead, it leaves the authorities with one hell of a dilemma. After all, where do you start investigating millions of suspects? Detective Sorrell has to separate the keyboard warriors from the real killer… who begins tweeting cryptic clues. As the investigation and media storm build, Sorrell discovers a British journalist from Horrigan’s past may hold the key…

Ten Million Followers. One Killer.

Okay, from the book which will, in all probability, be my favourite debut of the year, to another absolute corker . I’m sure you’ve heard people say they’d write a book “but they just don’t have the time”. Perhaps they should take a lesson from Matt Bendoris, who wrote this on his BlackBerry on his 25-minute commute to and from work (he’s Senior Features Editor at The Sun here in Scotland, and he has a family, so really, if he can do it anyone can. I believe EL James also used a BlackBerry, but there, you’ll be pleased to hear, the comparison ends.) I suspect, though, that most people are struggling with ideas, rather than time. That’s definitely not a problem for Matt – he’s come up with a thoroughly modern story, in which Twitter plays a large part. Technophobes need not worry; our investigating officer, Capt Sorrell, has no idea what a tweet is at the start of the investigation. I do love the homage to Hitchcock in the title, though. It reminds us that, despite modern technology, which can aid (or, sometimes, hinder) the police, a murder investigation is still, at it’s most base, a (sometimes laborious) search for a killer.

And boy, do they have a lot of suspects for the shooting in a Baltimore hotel of Bryce Horrigan, a Scottish journalist-turned-TV-host/shock-jock (I pictured Piers Morgan, with a dash of Howard Stern, and Craig Ferguson’s accent.) He’s a controversial figure as he takes every opportunity he can to push his pretend pro-choice agenda, which obviously puts him at loggerheads with the US pro-life lobby – and attracts a hundred thousand death threats on Twitter, of which he boasts! So when he’s found dead, they’ve got a lot of suspects to rule out (or in!) And of course, the people in his personal and working life, and those in his past, need to be investigated and eliminated. It’s a detective’s nightmare.

Journalists Connor “Elvis” Presley and April Lavender knew Bryce – he worked with them at Glasgow’s Daily Chronicle before he moved to London as an editor, then to the US as a TV host. They’re a great double act: the thrice-married April, who’s been in journalism for 30 years, and Connor, who joined the Chronicle at the same time as Bryce, and went to London with him, only to return after two years, disillusioned with the big city (and Bryce turning into a prick…!) With Bryce having worked there, and Elvis and April knowing his long term ex, Patsy “Pasty” Tolan well, the Chronicle send Elvis to the States, while April talks to Pasty – who was unceremoniously dumped after 27 years – to get the inside story on what Bryce was like to live with.

The short, snappy chapters – each presumably written on a commute! – told from different character’s perspectives: Connor, April, Sorrell, a suspect – make for a story that zips along. It’s one of those ” just one more chapter…” books, and, as well as being wickedly funny, has some well-fleshed characters, as well as the customary violent denouement. In short, it’s got everything you could want in a book – which is probably why it made the shortlist of six for the Deanston Scottish Crime Book Of The Year, which was announced at Bloody Scotland last weekend. It was up against such experienced writers as Chris Brookmyre, Louise Welsh, Lin Anderson, Ann Cleeves, and Craig Russell (who won, with The Ghosts Of Altona.) Read this book. I defy you not to love it.

Blog Tour – The Dark Inside – Rod Reynolds

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BLURB: 1946, Texarkana: a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas. Disgraced New York reporter Charlie Yates has been sent to cover the story of a spate of brutal murders – young couples who’ve been slaughtered at a local date spot. Charlie finds himself drawn into the case by the beautiful and fiery Lizzie, sister to one of the victims, Alice – the only person to have survived.

But Charlie has his own demons to fight, and as he starts to dig into the murders he discovers that the people of Texarkana have secrets that they want kept hidden at all costs. Before long, Charlie discovers that powerful forces might be protecting the killer, and as he investigates further his pursuit of the truth could cost him more than his job…

Loosely based on true events, The Dark Inside is a compelling and pacy thriller that heralds a new voice in the genre. It will appeal to fans of RJ Ellory, Tom Franklin, Daniel Woodrell and True Detective.

So, here we are on the final date of The Dark Inside blog tour. Can I add anything to the superlatives that have been heaped on this book by my fellow crime bloggers – the majority of whom are much more eloquent than me? I’ll do my best – here goes…

When I saw the cover of this book, I asked Rod Reynolds on Twitter if the US version had a different cover (it’s something of a fascination of mine, how different countries choose different covers, and what appeals where.) I was gobsmacked when he said that he wasn’t American, and this was the first edition of the book. Doesn’t it look brilliantly dark and menacing (and very American)? As well it should, as this is a darkly brilliant book. Even more incredible is the fact that it’s his debut novel – yes, I know I say that way too much, but I really felt I was in the hands of a highly experienced writer. It was also incredibly cinematic – more on that later.

When Charlie Yates, our exiled reporter, first reaches Texarkana, “A sign at the town limits read TEXARKANA USA is TWICE AS NICE. A dog cocked its leg and took a piss against it as I passed.” His coat is on a very shoogly peg, as we say up here, at The New York Examiner, and his marriage is over. He’s basically been banished to the middle of nowhere to get rid of him from the office. Initially, no-one in the town will speak to him about the murders. But gradually a few people give him snippets here and there, on the QT. He befriends Lizzie, the sister of the only surviving victim. Also, a barman, Richard Davis, claims to have seen one of the victims arguing with a GI the night she was murdered. However, the two lawmen, Sheriff Bailey of Bowie County, Texas, and his sidekick, Lieutenant Sherman of Texarkana City Police, have their eye on Yates, and won’t have any city reporter showing up what looks like questionable investigative skills. They refuse to even link the two attacks on the courting couples. Then there’s a third couple murdered, again on a Saturday night. Yates warns the lawmen they have a week before he strikes again. Meanwhile, local businessman Winfield Callaway offers a $20,000 reward to catch the killer, which only serves to send the lawmen off on lots of pointless calls. However, Yates thinks he’s found a link between at least some of the victims – but the killer’s motive remains shrouded in mystery. Saying any more would take me into spoiler territory, and I definitely don’t want to do that – I want everyone who reads this thriller to enjoy the way it unwinds as much as I did.

I mentioned the word “cinematic” earlier, and if I could have a dream team who could make this into a movie, it’d be Cary Grant as Yates, Katherine Hepburn as Lizzie, and I’d have Hitch behind the lens. However, as they are all no longer with us, I guess I’d make do with Scorsese in the director’s chair. Or perhaps Nic Pizzolatto could redeem himself for the somewhat messy second season of True Detective. (Not asking much, really…)

I read a lot of crime fiction, and with many books I can fairly easily figure out who the perpetrator is. Not so here. The misdirection was subtly brilliant, and I defy anyone to unknot the tangled web he weaves. I love anything Southern Gothic, and if you enjoy that particular aspect of this book, you’ll love John Berendt’s Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (which is included in my Top Ten Non-Fiction Books – ) I’d also point you in the direction of James Lee Burke – The Tin Roof Blowdown, about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is a masterpiece – but then, all his books are, particularly those featuring Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel. After all, we’re going to need some reading material while Rod Reynolds works on the follow-up to The Dark Inside! If you haven’t yet read this, get to it – it’s going to be on a lot of end-of-year “Best Of…” lists, including mine. I know I’m often too kind about some books, but this one really is a corker. You can thank me later.

Kindly, Rod took the time to write a piece for me on why he chose Texarkana as his setting – it’s a fascinating place:

I’ve written previously about the inspiration for my debut novel, The Dark Inside, and the real life case of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders on which it is based. But that was only the starting point. As I delved more into the history of the killings, what was it about Texarkana in 1946 that convinced me to set my story there?

Texarkana is an interesting place. Commonly referred to as ‘Texarkana, USA’, it is actually two towns – one in Texas, one in Arkansas, each with its own emergency services, city legislature and local laws. The state border runs right through the middle of town, so that when travelling on the main drag – State Line Avenue – the northbound lane is in Arkansas, and the southbound in Texas. Several of the buildings there make a feature of this – the US Post Office and Courthouse sits on an island in the middle of State Line, making it the only federal building in America to straddle two states. Similarly, the now -shuttered Union Station had a Texas-side entrance, and an Arkansas-side entrance, just yards apart.

At first, this seemed like nothing more than a geographic quirk – but as I thought about it more, I realised there was a potential dichotomy here to be used in the novel. Questions came to mind: did the various police agencies from different states get on? Or did petty rivalries open the door for incompetence – or, even, something more sinister? And what about the citizens – did tribalism affect their attitudes towards people who might live just a few streets away, but in a different state? These were all interesting themes to play with, in a novel which, in many ways, is about the different sides to my protagonist’s character, and the battle that takes place between his best and worst self.

There were other factors at play, too, that made Texarkana an appealing setting. The novel is set in the immediate aftermath of WW2. Our notion of post-war America is as a land of plenty, untouched by the ravages of war. And yet Texarkana, known as ‘The Gateway to the Southwest’, was a major railroad hub for returning servicemen – so in February 1946, the town was overrun with GIs. That notion intrigued me – a small town thousands of miles from any theatre of conflict, suddenly confronted with the reality of the war. And not all of the servicemen were headed someplace else; many of the local lawmen had taken up positions in the armed forces during the war, and were now returning to their old jobs; how had the experience affected them? What would it do to a sheriff’s deputy, in a rural town in middle America, to have seen action on the Western Front?

In February 2014 I travelled to Texarkana, to get a feel for the town first-hand. It’s still an interesting place; much of the old downtown is still there, but now abandoned. Iconic buildings that feature in the novel are still standing, but only as eerie empty shells. The town has sprawled, and modern Texarkana is like so many other small American cities – mile after mile of strip malls, freeways, and pretty suburban houses made of red brick or white clapboard. The people were friendly and welcoming. And yet walking around the near-deserted streets of ‘old’ Texarkana, something about the dilapidated shell of the Hotel Grim, the barricaded Union Station, and all the other crumbling buildings, evoked in me the idea that part of Texarkana had never really moved on from the events of 1946. That those few blocks were like a headstone; a reminder of a time when the whole town was paralysed with fear by the killings – too macabre to preserve, but too important to let go of entirely. Left, instead, to slip away slowly, like a fading memory.

The Dark Inside by Rod Reynolds is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

My thanks to Sophie at Faber & Faber for pointing this one in my direction and including me in the blog tour, and to Rod for writing a piece for me.

The Special Dead – Lin Anderson @BloodyScotland Build-Up

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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.

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 9 x 9 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 is one of the six nominated for Deanstons Bloody Scotland Crime Book Of The Year, 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 admit I initially assumed this one was the nominee, 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 fascinating, 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.

#30authors – Guest Review from J.J. Hensley: Peter Pan Must Die -John Verdon

For me, the only thing better than a good whodunit novel is one that is also a HOWdunit.  If there is one crime novelist I admire for his ability to design crimes that baffle readers until the final pages, it is John Verdon.  Around the time I was seeking blurbs for my first novel, Resolve, I had recently finished Verdon’s brilliant debut mystery Think of a Number.  I immediately contacted Verdon and asked him to look over my manuscript and, if he was willing, provide a blurb for the book jacket (which he did graciously provide).

Verdon’s latest book, the forth in a series, has possibly one of the best… titles… EVER.  It’s called Peter Pan Must Die.

Not Peter Pan Might Be Punched.

Not Peter Pan Should Be Maimed.

No.  It’s Peter Pan Must Die.

I mean, if you are going to go after a character beloved by children all over the world, then go all out!

Of course, this incarnation of Peter Pan is a little (pun intended) different.  Verdon’s Peter Pan is an incredibly skilled and elusive assassin who has a spooky childlike appearance.  He is cold.  He is calculating.  He is violent.  In sum, he would be a pretty terrible role model for children.

Of course when you think about it, the original Peter Pan used to sneak into the rooms of children and teach them to “fly” by giving them magical “fairy dust”, so that dude was a little creepy too.

As with Verdon’s first novel, the best part of this book is the challenge of figuring out how the crime occurred.  Verdon’s protagonist Dave Gurney uses his keen analytical skills while attempting to prove the innocence of a woman convicted of killing her husband.  The cerebral nature of Dave Gurney will be attractive to mystery readers who tire of superficial characters who rely on brawn more than brains.

Additionally, readers can pick up and enjoy Peter Pan Must Die even if they have not read any of Verdon’s previous works as he does a wonderful job of writing each book in the series as a stand-alone story.

If you like crime novels that stand out from the rest, be sure to read Peter Pan Must Die.  If nothing else, you can leave the book on your coffee table, as the title is a great conversation starter!

(Unless you have small children in the house who will read the title and subsequently question your bizarre murderous intentions.  In that case, it may be better to keep the book out of their sight.)


J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service who has drawn upon his experiences in law enforcement to write stories full of suspense and insight. Hensley, who is originally from Huntington, WV, graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University. The author lives with his wife and daughter near Pittsburgh, PA.

Mr. Hensley’s novel RESOLVE was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was a finalist for Best First Novel at the 2014 Thriller Awards.  He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.



Twitter: @JJHensleyauthor



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What A Lovely Way To Burn – Louise Welsh @BloodyScotland Build-Up

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BLURB: It doesn’t look like murder in a city full of death. A pandemic called ‘The Sweats’ is sweeping the globe. London is a city in crisis. Hospitals begin to fill with the dead and dying, but Stevie Flint is convinced that the sudden death of her boyfriend Dr Simon Sharkey was not from natural causes. As roads out of London become gridlocked with people fleeing infection, Stevie’s search for Simon’s killers takes her in the opposite direction, into the depths of the dying city and a race with death. A Lovely Way to Burn is the first outbreak in the Plague Times trilogy. Chilling, tense and completely compelling, it’s Louise Welsh writing at the height of her powers.

This was one of the eighteen books longlisted for this year’s Theakstons’s Best Crime Novel (Sarah Hilary deservedly won with her debut, Someone Else’s Skin) It’s follow-up, Death Is A Welcome Guest, is one of the six books on the Bloody Scotland Best Scottish Crime Novel shortlist, with the winner to be announced at the festival.

Louise Welsh has a big new publishing contract with Hodder & Stoughton – and boy does it show. This book’s the first of three in the Plague Times Trilogy. Having read all of Louise’s books, bar her most recent, The Girl On The Stairs, two things surprised me about this book: a) that it’s so commercial (that’s not a criticism, bear with me); and b) how action-packed it is – there’s no end of fights, guns being pulled on people, dead bodies – you get the picture. Our heroine is Stevie Flint, a one-time journalist, now working the dead shift on a shopping channel with her best pal, Joanie. Louise Welsh must’ve done her research(!) re shopping channels, as the wittering they do to fill the time and sell the products sounded incredibly realistic and witty.

“They were playing what Stevie thought of as their retro-porno-roles: Joanie the experienced but well-preserved housewife, initiating Stevie (newly married, not sure how to keep both her man and her sanity) into the ways of the world.”

All this to sell toasters at six am!

Basically, in the first book (I’m reading the second shortly) we’re in present-day London, and people are coming down in increasing numbers all over the world with something they call “the Sweats”. It appears everyone who has caught it up until now has died – bar Stevie, who locked herself away from everyone as soon as she was feeling bad. As a result of this, milder, infection, she’s immune, which is unheard of. Stevie had good reason to lock herself away – she’d gone to see her boyfriend, Simon, a doctor, after he stood her up, with the intention of collecting all her things from his flat and calling it a day. However, she finds Simon dead – and he didn’t die of the Sweats. He was murdered, by someone looking for something, which he fails to find, although Stevie does: a briefcase. He knew she’d find it, and left a (very sweet!) message saying Stevie is the only person he can rely on to deliver it to the one colleague he now trusts in medicine.

When she gets to the hospital, she’s told the colleague she wants to see is dead, but another gentleman will take the briefcase she’s brought from Simon’s, Dr Ahumibe, as he was also involved in the research project. He’s very plausible, but Stevie remembers how insistent Simon was – it was only to go to Reah. She politely demurs, remembering Simon’s scrawled postscript, “Trust no one except Reah.”

With the aid of Joanie’s ex, a policeman, she’s sent in the right direction in order to get the contents of the briefcase explained. Her meeting with Iqbal, as well as other characters, who reveal there was a bit more to her about her late boyfriend than she’d known are revelations which keep us turning the pages – we want to know the truth, just like Stevie.

The scenes where Stevie is driving around London – which could be any big city – are among the best in the book. Some people are doing their best to carry on; others have just given up. Many are dead. The streets aren’t safe anymore – and it’s not just the Sweats that’s the problem. As civil society starts to break down, robberies and other general desperate lawlessness start to spread across the city. Stevie has the added problem of the creepy doctors searching for her in order to get the briefcase. They also want some of the antibody that’s in her blood – presumably not for altruistic purposes, but to save their own skins, and try to make a fortune into the bargain!

I loved Stevie – she was ballsy, determined, and took no crap. She was determined to finish the task Simon set for her, when she could easily have headed out of London and away from the danger posed by Simon’s colleagues and the desperate population. Instead, she chose to stay and fight, very often literally (which is what crimeworm would do. Obviously.)

It is on the chunky side, compared to many crime novels, but is one to keep you reading far longer than you’d intended, and it flies by, particularly the final scenes. Just what is in the briefcase that a man would murder for? What are the Sweats, and what caused them? I don’t know if Stevie returns in book two – I hope so, but somehow doubt it ( just because I’ve read the blurb and she isn’t mentioned. Maybe she’ll do a cameo…) I also suspect it’ll be book three before we discover the origin of the Sweats, if, of course, we do. As one doctor says to Stevie, early in the book, In the fourteenth century sixty per cent of Europe’s population died from plague. It’s a myth that it was all down to rats. The truth is, we still don’t really know what it was.” “This isn’t anything like that though, is it?…”It’s impossible to know.” The origin of the disease is not really the issue though – like most dystopian books, it’s more about the breakdown of civilization and how the characters survive – or perish – in this unfamiliar new world.

Highly recommended.

Own copy.