A Fine House In Trinity – Lesley Kelly

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BLURB: 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?

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.

Crimeworm is 2 years old!

It occurred to me earlier today that it was in late April 2014 that I nervously posted my first post on WordPress. I don’t know if anyone saw it, but I posted another, then another, and gradually I got likes, and a comment. I was just planning to review my own – pretty huge – book collection as I read them, partly as a way of getting into writing often(ish!) again.

So I just thought I’d write a wee post about what I’ve learned along the way. Starting with…

  1. Book people are lovely (well, all the ones I’ve met are.) From fellow bloggers, to publicists, to authors – they are all wonderfully kind people, who genuinely love books.
  2. Life gets in the way (a lot!) In an ideal world I’d review every book as soon as I’d finished it, but stuff happens – good & bad – that throw the best laid plans in the bin. As long as you get there eventually, and keep people in the loop, they’re happy.
  3. Free books! (everyone else is too polite to mention this…) I didn’t know any book bloggers before I started blogging, and when I heard people mention NetGalley, I had to Google it. I probably went overboard that first time, not expecting any requests to be approved. But – wow! – they were, and I was reading a book I’d probably have had to wait until it came out in paperback to buy. Then, as you get to know more people in the book business (authors, publicists), you’ll be offered actual books. Mr Crimeworm thought this was fantastic, as it would save us money, but he revises that opinion every time he falls over a pile I’m moving. And he mustn’t rearrange them, otherwise he’ll mess up my mental filing system (I use mental in two senses of the word there!)
  4. I wasn’t getting great viewing figures until someone (thanks, Christine!) said, “Why don’t you use Twitter?” Doh! then – Wow! What a difference that made! Although it is highly addictive, it’s the best way to interact with the book community and upped my profile tremendously. (See how clueless I was?)
  5. I’m still crap at the technology side of things – because I spend my time reading, when I should be following WordPress tutorials (are they really helpful? I’ve heard they are.) I will get to it. And I still don’t know what a widget is (although I’ve a pretty good idea!)
  6. I can’t post a bad review. Luckily, most of what I read is self selected, so obviously I choose books I think I’ll like. But if I don’t get on with a book, it’s usually because it’s not my bag, and I can still pick out some positives from it. Also, with Twitter, authors can see your reviews, and most of mine know how to commit the perfect murder…My feeling is that people have put a lot of time, energy, and love into their book. Don’t diss that.

Well, that’s about it. Thank you to all who visit, even occasionally. Here’s to the next two (and many more, I hope…!)

All Through The Night – M.P. Wright

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BLURB: “It’s quite simple Mr Ellington. When you find Fowler, just ask where we can find the truth.”

With these words, private detective JT Ellington embarks on a seemingly simple case of tracking down a local GP with a dubious reputation and retrieving a set of stolen documents from him.

For Ellington, however, things are rarely straightforward. Dr Fowler is hiding a terrible secret and when he is gunned down outside a Bristol pub, his dying words send JT in pursuit of a truth more disturbing and deadly than he could possibly have imagined.

All Through The Night is the second in the Heartman series, the first being – you guessed it – Heartman. It’s the story of a Bajan private investigator (although he prefers “Enquiry Agent”), now living in the St. Paul area of Bristol, and the trials and tribulations he gets himself into while solving the cases brought to him by his clients. In this book, he’s been short of work for a while, so when an Ida Stephens of The Walter Wilkins Orphanage comes to him and asks him to locate an elderly Jamaican doctor called Dr. Theo Fowler and get him to return some documents – namely the death certificates of children – which he has taken from the home and return them, he can’t turn the £50 down. There’s also an extra £100 for him when the job’s done. She gives him £500 for the good doctor, as encouragement to comply. She has one other request – “When you find Dr. Fowler, ask him where the truth is.” Strange question, seemingly innocuous in itself, but the answer’s part of the deal. So, good money for not much work – that in itself should raise eyebrows…As they say in Russia, the only free cheese is in a mousetrap.

Asking around the Caribbean community, mostly centred in the St. Paul area of Bristol, it seems the Doc is very well known indeed – as the man for women to go to when they find themselves in trouble. He’s also an alcoholic. Through one of his cousin Vic’s prostitute friends – or possibly employees, he arranges a meeting with him in a pub and telephones Mrs. Stephens to tell her where and when it’s to take place, thinking that the job will probably be completed that night. However, Dr. Fowler spots a man he’s terrified of in the front bar, and they attempt to leave. As they try to flee in J.T.’s car, the man chases them, and pulls a gun, shooting the doctor. Before he dies though, he bequeath his £500 to J.T., and gives him keys and instructions on where to find the death certificates.

The death certificates are hidden in the store room of a swimming pool. Also there is a little girl – called Truth. That is what Ida Stephens strange question referred to. She tells him enough that he’s definitely not inclined to return her to the orphanage, and his opinion of the Doc as a selfish man only out for himself is altered. And so begins a desperate road journey for a middle-aged black man and an 8-year-old white girl – a duo who’re obviously going to stand out.

When they realise their first hideout has been revealed to the men, who beat up Loretta, J.T.’s friend, it makes it personal for her uncle, where they were staying. He takes them to his friend Laz, who he served with in the Korean War. They batten down the hatches of Laz’s lonely pub (very Jamaica Inn), and wait for the enemy to appear…

J.T. is a wonderful creation, and there are other great characters – his cousin Vic, who always has to bail him out of trouble – he’s the type to shoot first and ask questions later; Benny and Estelle, and her mother Cecile, with whom J.T. and Truth seek refuge in a village on the coast; Benny’s old friend from the Korean War, Laz – I got the impression the two of them wanted one last shootout before they were too old; and J.T.’s downstairs neighbour, Mrs. Pearce, who also takes care of Truth for a spell, particularly stand out for me. The relationship that slowly grows between J.T. and Truth is delightful – what they go through beggars belief. But we can see from it what a decent man J.T. is, and what a good father he must have been to his late daughter, Amelia.

This series is unique in so many ways – having a black protagonist when racism was rife; the setting of Bristol (I’ve always wanted to go there but it’s so far away!); the great Bajan patois they use; and the large cast of highly original people – including the men chasing them – that Wright has created. The novels of Colin MacInnes (rarely read these days; Absolute Beginners is the best known) sprung to mind when I was reading this, as it also features the experience of the immigrant community, albeit in London. I think Mr. Wright has probably toned down the racism – but it’s a joy to see the strong support J.T. has. He’s not fond of violence (unlike Vic, who is always up for a fight) but knows it’s sometimes necessary, especially when you’re dealing with men like the ones in this book.

This is a refreshingly different entrant to the crowded world of crime fiction – I wish I’d caught Heartman when it came out; I somehow missed it but I’ll definitely get a copy of it now. This was a book that kept me up, gripping the pages tightly, urging our hero on, as if he were real. That doesn’t happen often to this crime fiction fan! So I’d venture that this is a book well worth reading.*

*At time of writing this book is only 98p on Kindle – well worth it!

Very highly recommended.

With thanks to Black and White Publishing for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour (Part 2) – Breaking Dead – Corrie Jackson

BLURB: For fans of Kimberley Chambers and Jessie Keane, this compelling crime novel uncovers the dark side of high fashion.

Newspaper journalist Sophie Kent is hanging by a thread following her brother’s suicide, her personal life in chaos.

When the mutilated body of a Russian model turns up in an upmarket hotel on the eve of London Fashion Week, Sophie recognises her from a recent interview and knows she could have saved her. Eaten away by guilt, she throws herself headfirst into the edgy, fast-paced world of fashion with one goal in mind: to catch the killer. Only then can she piece her grief-stricken self back together. As she chips away at the industry’s glittery surface, she uncovers a toxic underworld rife with drugs, secrets, prostitution and blackmail. Battling her demons and her wealthy, dysfunctional family along the way, Sophie pushes her personal problems to one side as she goes head to head with a crazed killer; a killer who is only just getting started…

Sophie Kent is just back at work following the death of her drug addict brother, and while investigating a teenager’s murder runs into a Russian model she first tries to interview as a potential witness. However it’s quickly apparent Natalia has enough on her mind – her black eye and bruised wrists are testament to that. Over a week Sophie meets the lonely Russian, who admits she was raped and that it was someone highly respected in the fashion industry responsible. She is on the verge of giving Sophie the name of her attacker when she rushes out of the pub they’ve been meeting in. Early the next morning, Sophie receives a text giving her the name of an hotel and a room number. Arriving there, she finds there’s been a murder and the police are in attendance. Luckily Sophie knows the senior cop, DCI Durand, as she’d helped him out on another case, and when she hears from another cop the victim had a butterfly tattoo on one finger, she tells Durand she can give him the victim’s name – it’s Natalia. She reveals the model was helping her out on a story, and tells him about Natalia’s rape, in case it’s connected to her death. Or what if someone had seen Natalia meeting Sophie, a journalist, and decided she had to kept quiet permanently? The DCI – and I found this a bit hard to believe – leaned in the room and took photos of the crime scene with Sophie’s iPhone, so she could examine it too. She had been horrifically cut on her face, and her hair chopped off, as though someone wished to destroy her beauty. There’s other injuries too, some sexual (that bit is not for the squeamish.)

From looking at CCTV images from the night before, when a fashion party was taking place in the hotel, Sophie and her colleagues think Natalia is looking terrified every time she sees photographer Liam Crawford, the on-off boyfriend of supermodel Lydia Lawson. He and Lydia have a volatile relationship that’s been well documented in the media. Sophie knows him, as she was at Oxford with him, where they slept together.

But another suspect is thrown into the mix when it’s discovered that Natalia’s obsessive boyfriend from Russia is in the UK, and had been stalking her.

There’s then the murder of a second model, by one or more people, and with the the same MO and signature as Natalia’s. The body is discovered by Sophie, who passes the girl’s house en route to work, and spots her boyfriend running out, leaving the door open. This clearly goes much deeper than just Natalia being raped, as is confirmed when Sophie is anonymously sent a USB stick of the second dead model being sexually assaulted by a series of men. Sophie takes the stick to Cat Harvey, who was both dead girls’ agent, who agrees to help her investigate, as long as her name is kept out of it. It turns out DCI Durand was sent the same USB stick. They come to the conclusion there was some kind of blackmail going on – and perhaps still is, with other models. Sophie, ever the reporter, wants to break the story before it leaks to other papers. But she also wants the killer(s) arrested, and puts herself in danger trying to find out who’s responsible. The revelation of who’s behind it all gives us a superbly shocking ending.

Sophie seems to manage to get her way in everywhere, rather like the Forrest Gump of journalism, and although I found it all a bit too convenient for the storyline, you just have to ride with it, with your eyebrows raising slightly from time to time. She’s a very likeable and ballsy protagonist, and if you can suspend disbelief and just sit back and enjoy the read, then you get yourself a fast-moving, enjoyable thriller, set in the world full of the beautiful – but where beauty is very much only skin deep. I could possibly see a future romance between Sophie and DCI Durrand too! This book would be an absolutely perfect holiday read. And the storyline for book two is already nicely set up towards the end of this book. I for one will look forward to it. This is yet another book from Twenty7, an off-shoot of Bonnier publishing, who are printing debut novels – and every single one I’ve read has been highly enjoyable.


Blog Tour (part 1) – Breaking Dead – Corrie Jackson

BLURB: For fans of Kimberley Chambers and Jessie Keane, this compelling crime novel uncovers the dark side of high fashion.

Newspaper journalist Sophie Kent is hanging by a thread following her brother’s suicide, her personal life in chaos.

When the mutilated body of a Russian model turns up in an upmarket hotel on the eve of London Fashion Week, Sophie recognises her from a recent interview and knows she could have saved her. Eaten away by guilt, she throws herself headfirst into the edgy, fast-paced world of fashion with one goal in mind: to catch the killer. Only then can she piece her grief-stricken self back together. As she chips away at the industry’s glittery surface, she uncovers a toxic underworld rife with drugs, secrets, prostitution and blackmail. Battling her demons and her wealthy, dysfunctional family along the way, Sophie pushes her personal problems to one side as she goes head to head with a crazed killer; a killer who is only just getting started…

As a guest posting, Corrie has written about the five crime writers she has to thank for her career in crime writing. Over to you, Corrie…

Carolyn Keene

Yes, I know she doesn’t exist. Keene is the collective pseudonym for a group of authors who, between them, wrote the Nancy Drew books. As a kid, I devoured the Drew. She was like an older, cooler, smarter sister. Plus she drove a convertible. And had a dreamy boyfriend. Her spunk, courage and moral compass are part of my protagonist, Sophie Kent’s DNA. And I’m grateful to Carolyn Keene’s many faces for that.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

While my school-friends lusted after River Phoenix, my teenage self was fixated on an altogether more cerebral pin-up: Sherlock Holmes. The aquiline nose! The pipe! The violin solos! My obsession was such that, aged 13, I forced friends to attend my Sherlock Holmes-themed birthday party, complete with deerstalker cake (perhaps the real mystery is how I had any friends). Conan Doyle’s twisty-turny plots introduced me to the joys of puzzle-solving, and a world where the brain was mightier than the brawn.

Edna Buchanan

Edna is a real-life superhero. She ruled Miami’s police beat for two decades, covered over three thousand murders and won a Pulitzer prize in 1986. I swallowed up her memoir, The Corpse Has A Familiar Face, in one sitting. She blazed a trail right through the cut-throat, Alpha-male crime industry (in towering heels most of the time). God bless you, Edna!

Tana French

French inspires me on so many different levels. A master-plotter, a stickler for detail and a creator of characters who walk right off the page. I’ve read every single one of her novels and what I love most is her writing smarts. Which sounds obvious, but I don’t mean it that way. French’s prose is second-to-none and proves that a police procedural can also be a literary masterpiece.

Patricia Cornwall

I spent my formative years in the company of dazzling medical examiner, Dr Kay Scarpetta. I wanted to be a forensic pathologist so badly until I realised I was, how shall I put it, scientifically-challenged. Until Cornwall’s debut, PostMortem, was released in 1990, the public knew very little about forensics. Over one hundred million books (and 29 New York Times bestsellers later) we’re all armchair-pathologists. Also: she installed a forensic lab in her house so she can perform her own book research. My. Idol.


I’ve got to say, this is a pretty awesome list. I really didn’t know it was a group of authors who wrote the Nancy Drew books! And 4 out of 5 women is very impressive. Edna Buchanan sounds fascinating – must investigate that memoir! And we’re all pretty big fans of Tana French and (early) Patricia Cornwell, I think. Well, over to you people – I’d love to hear what you think of Corrie’s list. And who would be on your list, if you were a crime writer – as some of you may well be…

Blog Tour (part 1) – Abigale Hall – Lauren A. Forry

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BLURB: Two orphaned sisters in a house of secrets…

On a foggy evening in 1947, seventeen-year-old Eliza and her troubled little sister Rebecca are banished by their aunt and sent to work at an isolated Welsh mansion. But there are rumours of missing maidservants and a ghost that stalks the deserted halls… Wandering through the mansion’s dusty rooms, Eliza finds blood-spattered books, crumpled photographs and portraits of a mysterious woman – clues to a terrible past that might just become Eliza’s future.

As Eliza unravels a mystery that has endured for decades, Rebecca falls under the spell of cruel housekeeper Mrs Pollard, who will stop at nothing to keep the house’s secrets. But can the sisters uncover the truth and escape back to London before they meet a dreadful fate?

For the first part of my contribution to the Abigale Hall Blog Tour, I have the prologue, so you can all get a taster of the magnificently creepy atmosphere conjured up by Lauren A. Forry. If you like what you read, it’s currently available for Kindle at the fabulous price of 98p.  My review is to follow!

PROLOGUE – Abigale Hall by Lauren A. Forry

In a hidden corner of the Welsh countryside, beneath the dark green hills and stretching deep underground, lies a secret. Though few know of its existence, all feel its presence, for above this secret rests a house. One would be forgiven for believing it abandoned. Long grasses choke the overgrown gardens. Boards grey as the old mare grazing behind the rusted gates cover the highest windows. The house sits alone, its crumbling façade a pox on the hills it once commanded.

No one lives there, though a few reside within its walls: a caretaker who tends the grounds, too young for this damnation; a housekeeper who will never be satisfied, not until . . . ; and an old man who sits and thinks round the holes in his mind. If one were at the house now, one would see the caretaker smoking in the carriage house and the old man watching the world with eyes closed. The housekeeper cleans in the cellar. Flames dampen as she throws frocks into the furnace, then grow again to devour the thin fabrics. Next she adds the shoes, undergarments and, finally, the diary. She watches as the fire envelops the journal’s pages, the leather cover melting and blistering in the intense heat. Satisfied, she shuts the furnace door, wiping her hands on her apron before ascending the cellar steps and returning to where the old man waits.

‘It’s all done. I told you I’d take care of it, didn’t I?’ She brushes the lint off his shoulder. ‘She was no different than the others, was she? There was no reason to worry. Now, shall you retire until dinner?’

She escorts him through the house, making note of her chores as she goes: light the fire in the bedroom, order more coal for the east wing, scrub the blood from the floorboards. There is much to do in a large house such as this.

The door to the veranda jams as she opens it. A firm yank and the frame yields. This house always yields to her. She leaves the old man there to admire one of his favourite views – the little cemetery in the west. The sun will soon be setting, casting crimson light over the ageing gravestones where another waits, watching.

The housekeeper returns to her wing, leaving footprints in the disturbed dust of the bloodied servants’ passage, pausing only to wipe a damp, crimson handprint from the peeling wall- paper. Ensconced in her small office by the kitchen, she settles at her writing desk and produces his familiar grey stationery from its drawer. Upon taking up her pen, she dips the worn quill in a jar of red ink and composes the letter as it has been done so many times before, and as it will be done again. The names are all that change. Tomorrow she will travel to the village and post it. She hates the delay, but all will be taken care of in good time. A few weeks and Mr Brownawell will have his new ward. She smiles as the sharp edge of the envelope slides beneath her fingers.

In the cemetery, as the dimming light casts the house in darkness, the other watches, weeping for those who will join them in the shadows of the dark green hills.

Blog Tour (Part 2) – A Tapping At My Door – David Jackson

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David Jackson has generously agreed to give us a list of his most inspiring books:

Books that have inspired me

There are probably hundreds of books that have influenced me in one way or another. Among them I would include the classics by Salinger and Harper Lee and Steinbeck, but also those I read while growing up, from Enid Blyton onwards. It’s difficult to narrow the list down to a few specific books that have directly affected my own writing, but here goes:

‘Cop Hater’, Ed McBain

McBain has certainly been the biggest influence on me as a crime writer. I have every one of his 87th Precinct novels, and they take pride of place on my bookshelf. I love the procedural detail, the vivid descriptions of the city (fictional, although based closely on New York), the fast pace and the snappy interplay between characters. I have selected ‘Cop Hater’ here as it’s the one that kicked off the series, but perhaps more memorable are those featuring the devious Deaf Man, introduced in ‘The Heckler’.

‘The Big Sleep’, Raymond Chandler

The first of Chandler’s Marlowe books. Superb writing, but what I really love about the books is the humour, which can be a tricky thing to pull off. A wonderful example is at the start of the novel, where Carmen says to Marlowe, ‘Tall, aren’t you?’ and he replies, ‘I didn’t mean to be.’ The cops I have met in real life have all had a strong (and sometimes morbid) sense of humour, and I think that any detective novel that fails to include it is missing a key ingredient.

‘The Juror’, George Dawes Green

Probably not as well-known as some of the other books here, this was also turned into a film (starring Demi Moore). The reason I’ve included it is not so much for the story as for the writing style. Written in present tense third person, and using pithy sentence fragments, it adopts a style very much mirrored in my own novels.

‘Carry on, Jeeves’, P G Wodehouse

As mentioned above, humour is a tricky thing to get right. Most supposedly comic novels fail miserably in my view. Wodehouse is a glorious exception. He is one of the few authors who can have me laughing out loud, often through the ingenious choice of a single apposite word. Like several other Jeeves books, this one is a collection of short stories.

‘Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris

The book that set the bar for all serial killer novels to come, and still pretty much unsurpassed. Harris’s genius was in getting the reader to root for a man who, on the face of it, should be detestable.

‘Service of All the Dead’, Colin Dexter

As with the McBain books, all of the Inspector Morse novels are prominently displayed on my bookshelf. His love and mastery of the English language shines through in every paragraph. Where else would you find a phrase like ‘she walked boustrophedon along the pews’?

‘Gone, Baby, Gone’, Dennis Lehane

Another wonderful author. Lehane wrote modern crime classics such as Mystic River and Shutter Island, but I love his crime-writing private eye duo Kenzie and Gennaro. Again, there is enormous wit in these fast-moving books.

‘Right as Rain’, George Pelecanos

If you loved The Wire (on which Pelecanos was a screenwriter), you’ll also love the man’s novels. My favourites feature private detective Derek Strange. These are powerful, gritty stories of life on the street, in which character is king.

‘Marathon Man’, William Goldman

The movie is an all-time favourite of mine, and the novel is just as gripping. The short, snappy writing style is right up my street.

‘The Illustrated Man’, Ray Bradbury

If you want beautiful prose that transports you to fantastical worlds, Bradbury is your man. I would love my writing to be even half as good as his. ‘The Illustrated Man’ is actually an interconnected collection of short stories.

‘Life of Pi’, Yann Martel

Readers of my books will know that I like a good twist now and again. Although Life of Pi isn’t a crime novel, it has a jaw-dropping reveal at the end that will keep you thinking long after you put it down.

‘A Christmas Carol’, Charles Dickens

I re-read this every Christmas, and not just because of the festive message. It’s the perfect example of how a protagonist does not have to be likeable for the reader to want to follow their story. It also contains one of the best opening-line hooks in literature: ‘Marley was dead; to begin with.’

I personally am a huge fan of both Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos, and I need to re-read some of Colin Dexter’s Morse novels, as I really haven’t read that many. Got to agree that The Juror is a great book. What do you think of David’s list? And what books have inspired you?

Blog Tour (Part 1) – A Tapping At My Door – David Jackson

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From the bestselling author of Cry Baby, the beginning of a brilliant and gripping police procedural series set in Liverpool, perfect for fans of Peter James and Mark Billingham “Recalls Harlan Coben – though for my money Jackson is the better writer.” Guardian.

A woman at home in Liverpool is disturbed by a persistent tapping at her back door. She’s disturbed to discover the culprit is a raven, and tries to shoo it away. Which is when the killer strikes. DS Nathan Cody, still bearing the scars of an undercover mission that went horrifyingly wrong, is put on the case. But the police have no leads, except the body of the bird – and the victim’s missing eyes. As flashbacks from his past begin to intrude, Cody realises he is battling not just a murderer, but his own inner demons too. And then the killer strikes again, and Cody realises the threat isn’t to the people of Liverpool after all – it’s to the police. Following the success and acclaim of the Callum Doyle novels, A Tapping at My Door is the first instalment of David Jackson‘s new Nathan Cody series.

I’ve never read David Jackson before, despite all the great things I’ve heard. I actually thought I’d surely bought Cry Baby, having seen it in the Kindle Chart forever, but no. Bit of an error, then. Because he’s bloody good. In this case, it’s great to get in at the start of a series featuring a new character, rather than clueless, halfway through one already well-established. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a bit of a fashion for shorter series of maybe around four books, rather than long Rebus/Roy Grace series? Maybe authors like to try out new protagonists so they don’t get bored with writing about the same character(s) all the time – or you can start a new series on the side, like Elly Griffiths has done, alongside Ruth Galloway.

So – Nathan Cody, ex-undercover, now in the MIT, which investigates major incidents. We know something went dreadfully wrong in his last stint undercover, and throughout the book, it’s revealed, drip by drip, very effectively (and it’s quite gruesome!) And to be quite honest, when I learnt what it was, I was surprised he was allowed straight back in at the “sharp end” of policing. I wasn’t surprised he’s a tad jumpy/an insomniac/hallucinates/attacks people – i.e. causes breaches of the peace, rather than breaks them up. Little wonder fiancée Devon has left. It’s the first day in MIT for Megan Webley, who he trained with, and went out with for 18 months. So…awkward. And she’s now engaged, to a chap called Parker. Says it all, really.

They’re investigating a case which takes a serious turn – well, it’s pretty serious anyway! – when the victim is ID’d as a copper, Terri Latham. She’s found in her garden with a raven across her face, her throat slit so she couldn’t scream, and her eyes poked out. Nasty. There’s a note tied to the raven’s leg, with part of a quote from Edgar Allan Poe printed on it. The most notorious thing, job-wise, Terri Latham is known for, is backing up her partner, Paul Garnett, who, whilst they were breaking up a fracas outside a bar, got a bit heavy-handed – something no-one is surprised at, as he’s got form for it – except this time the bloke is dead, from his head hitting the ground. If that wasn’t enough of a nightmare for Merseyside Police, it’s revealed the lad, Kevin Vernon, wasn’t even in the pub, or fight, but was just walking home, and had severe learning difficulties. The two officers stuck to the same story, despite the fact all other witnesses give another version of events – and Garnett walks away Scot-free, as usual.

Despite investigations, involving PC Garnett, and of course the Vernon family, who are very unhappy, and see the visit as an accusation, plus her current squad, and friends and family, no-one appears to be able to shine a light as to why Terri was victim of such a horrific attack.

Throughout the book there’s input from the killer, which makes clear it’s something to do with the birds, and a grudge against police in general. When his second victim – PC Paul Garnett – has his nose removed, with a line from a nursery rhyme which mentions the removal of noses – yes, that one – and the appropriate bird left at the crime scene, it points more and more to the Vernon family, or someone close to them…which calls for the utmost diplomacy.

A bum steer wastes time, then a third policeman is killed who had nothing to do with the Vernon case. DS Cody tries to lure our killer out, with disastrous results. And the whole time I’m thinking, this is just a random police killer with a bird obsession. But nothing about it is random at all.

The use of the city, and it’s landmarks, throughout the book is something I really enjoyed – it’s something Linda Fairstein does with New York, and it really makes the surroundings almost become another character. Stuart MacBride, Peter May, Ian Rankin…they all do it, rural and urban, and it really adds atmosphere, which we get in spades at the end here. It really is one of these “…I’ll talk to you in a minute, right? Just need to read this…oh shit…”-type endings, where the book would have to be physically removed from your clutch. Loved it, particularly Blunt, Cody’s boss, and there’s some good banter, as you’d expect! And everything also clicked beautifully into place, plot-wise.

Great start to a new series, which will hopefully tip David Jackson into the big league. It’d be great if they did an offer on the books in his first series, the Callum Doyle one, so I could buy the job lot, as I’m looking forward to reading more of David’s work, and I really don’t want to wait a year to do so! A series with great potential

With thanks to Zaffre Publishing, for an advanced review copy in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

Blog Tour (Part 2) – Spare Me The Truth – C.J. Carver

C.J. kindly agreed to write a piece for us on what happens behind the scenes – i.e. where all that marvellous inspiration and those unique ideas come from. Over to you, C.J….

Backstage: Where Writers get their Inspiration/Ideas

For some, ideas are touched off by family experiences. Or a real-life incident. For example, when I was backpacking in India, I came across two policemen beating a man with lathis – long heavy wooden sticks. Being a white foreigner I was instantly noticeable, which was a good thing because they stopped beating the poor man, but the bad thing was that I became the focus of their attention. The more superior of the two spoke briefly to me, wanting me to move on, which I did. Aside from being frightened – both were scary men – what stuck in my memory was the man’s eyes. They were hard, black and shiny, like wet pebbles. Dead eyes. Expressionless, flat. I always knew I’d write about them one day, and those eyes belong in Spare Me The Truth to the frightening character Sirius Theile.

Personal experiences aside – my books are peppered with them – I am a voracious reader. I read crime and thriller books – love them – but I also read real-life adventure, survival stories, biographies. I keep up to date with current events, read the Sunday papers from cover to cover and magazines like New Scientist and Nature.

When I’m looking for inspiration for a new book, I generally stuff my subconscious with as much information as I can and during this process, I’ll fall upon something that will fire up my neurons.

With Spare Me the Truth, it was reading an article by the Telegraph’s science correspondent Richard Gray, who stated, ‘Researchers have found they can use drugs to wipe away single, specific memories while leaving other memories intact.’ Brilliant! I thought. A memory-erasing drug! But when I looked closer it wasn’t quite as clear-cut, but who am I to split hairs when creating a story.

I find that when I’m writing, ideas come more easily. There’s something about the actual process of writing that switches my mind into looking out for things that might be included in the book. Like the Rottweiler guard dogs I met one afternoon. A male and a female, as gentle as kittens until they perceived their owner was being threatened and they immediately turned into 60 kilo mountains of killing machines. I never thought I’d write them into a story, but there they are, checking out Dan Forrester as he crosses a fly-tip in Hounslow. Hope he can run fast.

Another thing is harnessing the unconscious. Wordless daydreams. I find the space between waking and sleeping creates an abundance of ideas. This reverie can take the form of dreamily recasting the chapter I’ve just written and peering ahead and imagining the next. I do the same on trains. When I’m walking. When I’m gazing out of the window. I may look as though I’m daydreaming, but I’m actually hard at work.

© CJ Carver 2016


Blog Tour (Part 1) – Spare Me The Truth – C.J. Carver

Product Details

BLURB: C.J. Carver is a top notch thriller writer and Spare Me The Truth is right up there with the best – Simon Kernick For fans of Lee Child and Jason Bourne, Spare Me the Truth is the gripping new thriller from the multi-award winning author of Blood Junction. Dan Forrester, piecing his life back together after the tragic death of his son, is approached in a supermarket by a woman who tells him everything he remembers about his life – and his son – is a lie. Grace Reavey, stricken by grief, is accosted at her mother’s funeral. The threat is simple: pay the staggering sum her mother allegedly owed, or lose everything. Lucy Davies has been forced from the Met by her own maverick behaviour. Desperate to prove herself in her new rural post, she’s on the hunt for a killer – but this is no small town criminal. Plunged into a conspiracy that will test each of them to their limits, these three strangers are brought together in their hunt for the truth, whatever it costs. And as their respective investigations become further and further entwined, it becomes clear that at the centre of this tangled web is a threat more explosive than any of them could have imagined. “Nothing short of brilliant …Carver has created a wonderful story here, sort of Jason Bourne meets Silence of the Lambs.” – Michael Jecks, author of Blood on the Sands.

How on earth can we possibly keep up with all the great crime and thriller writers out there? That was my thought as I finished Spare Me The Truth, C.J. Carver’s 8th thriller. I’ll be honest – I’d heard the name, but had no idea what sort of books s/he wrote (because I didn’t know if s/he was male or female, but that doesn’t bother me, nor should it.) But when there are books this bloody good coming out, and they’re not even on my radar, I think, how on earth do I keep up with them all?! And…you’re not very good at this crime fiction blogging lark…

Dan Forrester works as a driving instructor on high performance cars. He lives in Wales with his wife and daughter, having moved there after a breakdown brought on by the death of his son in a hit-and-run accident in London, where they then lived. Dan worked in the Immigration Dept. of the Home Office. Due to the breakdown, he has no memory of his job, or his son’s accident – all he knows is what he’s been told by his father, wife, friends. One day in a supermarket, a woman called Stella Reavey approaches him, telling him he didn’t work in the Immigration Dept., but did work with her at Whitehall. She says she needs to borrow him for a couple of days. Her final words are that Dan’s son Luke didn’t die in a car crash. Dan telephones the police, saying a woman is harassing him, but when they arrive, they telephone a number on a card Stella gives to them, and him. Their response is for him to phone the number himself. Instant spook alert!

PC Lucy Davies has been sent from the Met in disgrace to Cleveland Police as she’s too forthright and pushy, and tends to go off on tangents of her own. Her doctor reckons she’s bipolar, and gives her some amazing new tablets to level out the moodswings but she bins them as they make her feel crap. Anyway, up there she’s thrown right into a major operation, searching for a missing student. Lucy and her partner are, at her insistence, following up a report of noises coming from a storage container at the docks. When she persuades the reluctant/lazy security cards to open it, amongst the garbage that’s heading to India, supposedly for recycling, she finds a freezer, within which is the broken body of the missing student, Bella Frances, barely alive.

The third thread of the story concerns Grace Reavey, the GP daughter of Stella. Stella contacts her daughter, telling her she’s something important to tell her, but it’s a face-to -face job. Grace agrees to come the next day.

Meanwhile, Dan goes on one of his midnight drives, to the home address of Stella Reavey. Not much later, her daughter arrives, worried by the phone call. While she’s in the shower, Stella has a heart attack. By the time they get her to the hospital, she’s dead.

These three threads are expertly woven into a tale of a serial killer who has a shopping list of victims, beyond he refuses to go; a dodgy drug company trying to develop drugs – one of which induces amnesia, another which can cause feelings of fear or dread in a crowd and is being sought by arms dealers; a recycling company in India which is being investigated by the station cleaner, as the policeman who should be doing it has had his family threatened; and someone on the inside at Stella’s new post-Home Office job gone to the dark side. The chapters are short and pacy, moving between our three main characters, keeping readers desperate to know what will happen next. Revealing any more would be a definite spoiler, as Carver’s gradual revelations work perfectly. It’s actually quite frightening, as it all seems highly plausible (apparently it is – the weapons being developed nowadays have nothing in common with guns and bombs, but their effects are utterly terrifying.)

I for one will be investigating more of C.J. Carver’s work (she has been a recipient of the CWA Debut Dagger and the Barry Award for Best British Crime Fiction. Definitely worth a look.

Highly recommended.

With thanks to Zaffre publishing for the review copy in exchange for an unbiased review.