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!


My thanks to Faber for my review copy.

Follow the Blog Tour – at tomorrow!

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 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.