October 29

Depraved Heart – Patricia Cornwell

Depraved HeartDr. Kay Scarpetta is working a suspicious death scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts when an emergency alert sounds on her phone with a surveillance film of her genius niece Lucy taken almost twenty years ago. The film clip and then others sent soon after raise dangerous legal implications that increasingly isolate Scarpetta and leave her not knowing where to turn – not to her FBI husband Benton Wesley or her investigative partner Pete Marino. Not even Lucy.

Scarpetta is now launched into intensely psychological odyssey that includes the mysterious death of a Hollywood mogul’s daughter, aircraft wreckage on the bottom of the sea in the Bermuda Triangle, a grisly gift left in the back of a crime scene truck, and videos from the past that threaten to destroy Scarpetta’s entire world and everyone she loves.

 

My thanks to Hayley and the Harper Fiction team for my review copy and the chance to join the tour.

 

Depraved Heart is the 23rd Kay Scarpetta novel. I was there back in 1990 when the first book (Postmortem) was released and the first ever publishers ARC I received was for book 6 (From Potter’s Field). Doctor Scarpetta was one of my annual essential reads and I always made a point of picking up the latest release as soon as the hardback hit the shop shelves. But time moved on and for a period of time it became more important that I bought baby food and nappies rather than the books I wanted. My favourite reads suffered and as a result I fell behind on the lives of Dr Scarpetta, Lucas Davenport (from the wonderful John Sandford Prey series) and whichever oddity Mr Stephen King would serve up for our entertainment.

The bodies that consumed the baby food and then filled the nappies have grown somewhat and I am now able to pick up the books I have missed over the last few years and I am catching up on my favourite characters. It seems that while I have been distracted Doctor Scarpetta has been busy!

Author photograph - Patrick Ecclesine 2015
Author photograph – Patrick Ecclesine 2015

To Depraved Heart: it is to be expected that by book 23 in a series there will be a requirement to know something of the backstory. Depraved Heart is very much a story which draws upon previous events. The author does bring through sufficient information to allow readers to understand something of what has passed before but this is not a book I would consider an easy jumping on point.  There is a vast backstory for Kay Scarpetta and the joy for the reader is in reading through these events in the earlier books, not to try to piece together what has gone before through some of the salient facts in the latest title.

The good news for returning readers is that some significant elements from Kay’s past are returning to haunt her and a fascinating game of cat and mouse is about to unfold. The book opens with Scarpetta at a murder scene but she becomes distracted by call she receives from her niece’s emergency phone. However, it is not her niece, Lucy, that has contacted Kay – instead Kay watches a video clip of Lucy which was recorded some 20 years earlier. Lucy was clearly unaware the video was being recorded but Kay is sufficiently worried about her niece that she leaves the crime scene and drives directly to Lucy’s home to check on her safety.

On arriving at Lucy’s home Kay is shocked to learn that the FBI are searching the property and it seems that Lucy may be a person of interest to them. Kay has her suspicions regarding the person responsible for sending the video and believes that they may also be engineering a ploy to implicate Lucy in a criminal activity. But with no evidence to support her theory and facing an apparent attempt to discredit her own recollections of recent events (which that endangered her own life) Kay finds she is fighting a battle on more than one front.

Depraved Heart is a rewarding read for fans of the series. Scarpetta, Benton and Moreno are in fine form, their interchanges and point-scoring discussions are a joy to read – particularly as this is a conversation heavy story which much supposition and discussion between the characters.

The mystery and unpredictability of the unseen opponent in Depraved Heart made for interesting twists along the way. As I was reading I felt the story dropped pace a little in the middle but then rushed into an explosive ending which seemed to be over all too quickly, the final set piece was quite nasty though so perhaps drawing it out would have been unpleasant for some?

In summary – if you have read the 22 books leading into Depraved Heart you will love this.  For those on catch up (as I was) pay attention and stick with it as all becomes clear but there are spoilers for earlier books.

 

Track the Depraved Heart blog tour at the sites listed below:

Depraved Heart Blog Banner

 

 

Fans of Patricia Cornwell may be keen to know that there will be two opportunities to meet her during November – links below will provide more details on the events which are being held in London and Manchester.

http://www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk/lifestyle/gh-events-and-whats-on/patricia-cornwell – event in LONDON

https://www.waterstones.com/events/an-evening-with-patricia-cornwell/manchester-deansgate -event in MANCHESTER

Depraved Heart is available now in Hardback and Digital format.

Patricia Cornwell is on Twitter: @1pcornwell

 

 

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October 10

Last Days of the Condor – James Grady

Last days of the condor

 

Set in the savage streets and Kafkaesque corridors of Washington, DC, shot through with sex and suspense, with secret agent tradecraft and full-speed action, with hunters and the hunted, Last Days of the Condor is the bullet-paced, ticking clock saga of America on the edge of the most startling spy world revolution since 9/11.

My thanks to the team at No Exit Press for my review copy.

The press release for Last Days of the Condor suggests that this is a story for fans of Harlan Coben, David Baldacci and Homeland. Of the three the Homeland comparison was the best fit for Last Days – this felt like a spy story or counter espionage drama with plenty of action and drama to keep me reading.

The story follows Vin (Condor) he is a former agent/operative who has been retired from action. He survives daily routine by ingesting a cocktail of drugs but his skills and training are hard wired into his very being and he is ever alert to the possibility of threat.  As we join Vin at the opening of Last Days of the Condor he is travelling home, we share his view of the street and understand how he assesses potential threats. He sees danger everywhere and is waiting to be killed – it is a very effective opening and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Vin believes he is being followed. On returning home he is checking his house for intruders when there is a loud thumping at the door – the reader cannot help buy into Vin’s conviction that he is about to die.

James Grady has penned a thrilling adventure – action sequences come thick and fast and we find that Vin is a dangerous person to be seen with. Despite his paranoia and lack of resources Vin is a worthy opponent and when he finds himself cornered his old survival skills kick in.

Caught up in Vin’s bad day is Faye.  She is an active agent who had been sent to monitor Vin and ensure a once lethal force was adapting to civilian life. Faye can call upon her employers to assist when Vin comes under attack, however, can she be sure that she can trust those sent to help?

A slick thriller and a real page turner – after a run of more fantastical reads this was nicely grounded and all too realistic.

 

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October 3

Q&A Andrew Shantos – Dead Star Island

Dead Star Island CoverToday is the final leg of the Dead Star Island Blog Tour and I am delighted to welcome Andrew Shantos to Grab This Book. Andrew has kindly taken time to answer a few questions:

Which book has most influenced your writing and why?

If I had to pick just one it has to be the Cyberpunk classic, Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. One reviewer on Goodreads calls it “War and Peace for nerds”. It made me realise what is possible in a book: it’s brimming with ideas, both playful and deep; its real life characters get treated with affectionate irreverence; it’s sad and funny and clever. I’ve tried to do the same in Dead Star Island, though the nerdy aspect is more of the musical variety.

 

How long did it take you to find a publisher? What advice have you got for other debut novelists looking to get published?

It took about a year to find a publisher, after much trying (which I describe on another leg of my blog tour). There is much in the world of publishing that is beyond an author’s influence (particularly a debut author). But you can control the most important things: writing the best novel you possibly can; and giving absolutely everything you have. If you achieve those things, you learn to enjoy above all the process of writing, which is a deeper, more abiding love, rather than the short term lust you get from any kind of public “success”.

That said, most writers do want other people to read their musings on life, and it is lovely when someone says something nice about your book. So you have to keep trying, believe in yourself, and seek to become better at what you do.

 

Your central character is an alcoholic and there is certainly a good deal of substance abuse by the islanders too. How difficult or easy was it to write about?

I adored it! I always got a little excited when I knew one of these scenes was coming up, and I found them the easiest to write. They do say write what you know… Finally I found a constructive use for those wasted college years. There were a few substances missing from my collection though, so I took various mates out for a drink and got them to tell me stories from their bad old days.

I felt it was important to include these kind of experiences in the novel, because many of the real life characters who appear (Jim, Jimi, Joni etc) are defined as much by their hedonistic lifestyles as by their extraordinary musical talent. So Gunzabo (my detective, who simply cannot say no) ends up joining in (quite a lot). He has fun at first, but gets pretty messed up, which for me sums up why many people get into drug abuse, and why they stay into drug abuse.

 

Andrew ShantosWhen you were writing, did you set yourself deadlines or goals or did you just let it flow? How long did the book take from start to completion?

Dead Star Island took three years, from writing the first word to clicking Send on the final draft. I kept trying to set goals, but this never seemed to work: I found myself failing to reach them and doing even less as a result. What worked really well was keeping a record every time I finished a writing session. I noted the number of hours I spent and what I’d been working on (resulting in some nice stats for the nerds out there). This allowed me to give myself a pat on the back when I looked back and saw I’d done forty hours the previous month. Also I found myself competing with the me from a month ago to try to beat it.

 

Are there other genres you’d now like to explore?

As a reader I’ve never been one to stick to a particular genre. I’ll read anything, from thrillers to sci-fi to romance, so long as it’s full of ideas and it makes me feel part of someone else’s world. So I don’t know. Maybe a romantic sci-fi thriller?

For now though, I’m focussing on shorter fiction. I’ve got plenty of ideas and I want to turn some of them into short stories before committing to a few more years at the next full length novel.

 

You are a musician yourself. How did this influence your choice of subject/writing?

Music was the biggest influence of all on Dead Star Island. It helped me choose my characters, write many of the scenes (for example, the talent show where Jimi forms a super-group with some of the other residents and performs a cover of The Final Countdown). Music gave me the idea for the novel in the first place: all my favourite musicians, living in secrecy on an island together. It’s my ultimate fantasy. Of those I’m willing to share with the world, anyhow.

 

 

Dead Star Island, published by APP, can be ordered through Amazon priced £4.99 for Kindle and £8.99 paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dead-Star-Island-Andrew-Shantos/dp/0992811627
To get in touch visit him here….
w: andrewshantos.com
t: @andrewshantos
#deadstarisland
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September 25

Rings of Smoke – Diane O’Toole

Rings of SmokeErin Fallon is the eldest daughter of an Irish immigrant who took his family to a small town on the Lancashire/Cumbria border for what he believed to be a better life. It was what her mother wanted, but once she got it, it wasn’t enough. She had to have more.

Leonard Fitch is an eminent neurosurgeon. His mother was never satisfied either, and her constant demands led to his father being killed in a motor accident. Leonard loved his father; he was the only person to treat him with kindness and affection. He hated his mother but could never stand up to her. Tormented and ridiculed throughout his childhood, Leonard swore to exact revenge on womankind in general, but mothers in particular.

At a secluded lodge in the depths of Bleazedale Forest, for four years he carries out the most abominable atrocities with impunity. He takes girls on their birthday and keeps them holed up for a full twelve months before killing them and sending their mothers a birthday card with a picture of their beloved little girl, dead and with their severed feet placed either side of their head.

 

My thanks to Louise of Crime Book Club for the chance to join the Tour.

I have noticed a few online interactions recently where people have not enjoyed books which they consider too graphic. While this is never something that has concerned me I feel it only fair to flag up that Rings of Smoke does contain some scenes which some readers may find disturbing.

Not me though so onwards to the story!

Leonard Fitch is quite a nasty piece of work – he is exacting revenge for a lifetime of torment by kidnapping girls, subjecting them to a year of torture and abuse. He then finally ends their suffering on their birthday and sends the distraught family pictures of their daughter’s mutilated corpse.

Having established Finch as a man to avoid the story switches to Erin Fallon. She is the eldest of four siblings and we are brought into the family home as her father secures a promotion and the chance to improve their lot in life with a little extra money each month. A move to a new town leaves Erin feeling lonely and unsettled. There are problems at home and soon Erin finds she is the one keeping the household together- however Finch has her in his sights.

I enjoyed how Diane O’Toole established Erin’s family at the heart of the story. Seeing how Erin is integral to her family’s wellbeing made the threat of Finch more acute. While you read you cannot help but feel that if Finch managed to trap Erin that her family would crumble apart.

As we know Finch for the monster that he is I particularly enjoyed that the author also elected to show Finch living his ‘normal’ life too. Finch’s revenge is a long term entertainment for him. Girls are held for 12 months at a time, therefore, he needs to have a house, a career, co-workers and a semblance of a normal existence. His role as a neurosurgeon places him into a busy hospital and I loved these scenes as the politics of the hospital play out, evolving around the important surgeons and their respective staffers. It gave the characters the depth that is not always established in the books I read.

As I read Rings of Smoke I realised that there was a possible outcome that I did not want to see happen. It kept me reading late into the night as I had to know if Finch was going to be foiled. The endgame was built up nicely and delivered more than one twist that I had not seen coming.

I had fun with Rings of Smoke, it took a slightly different approach to the serial killer story by concentrating on the killer and his next victim. Nicely done.

 

 

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September 21

The Defenceless – Kati Hiekkapelto

defenceless 2When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complex case, she’s led on a deadly trail where illegal immigration, drugs and, ultimately, murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life.

Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang, where deportation orders and raids cause increasing tension and result in desperate measures by gang members – and the police themselves. Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. As pressure mounts, it becomes clear that having the law on their side may not be enough for Anna and Esko.

 

My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my review copy.

The Defenceless opens with two drug dealers enjoying some of their wares in suburban flat being confronted by an elderly neighbour. There is an argument and an accident and the first thread in the elegant tapestry of the story is sewn. Next we find lead character Anna Fekete has been called to investigate what appears to be a hit and run accident, however, the victim appears to be on a road in totally inappropriate clothing for a winter night.

More threads soon follow: gang wars are spilling into Finland from Denmark. We follow a boy in Finland who is (topically) an illegal alien trying to avoid the authorities and inevitable deportation. A Hungarian au pair who is a suspect in an investigation but also wants to be Anna’s new best friend as she feels a connection through their Eastern European heritage. All these elements, and more, are skillfully pulled together as the story unfolds and we are treated to a captivating thriller.

The Defenceless is the second book featuring Anna and her partner Esko, both were introduced in The Hummingbird (another must read title). Despite this being the second in the series I do not feel it is essential to have read The Hummingbird to enjoy The Defenceless.  Everything I needed to know about Anna was smoothly integrated into the story without feeling I was reading a recap.

One key observation I would make about The Defenceless (and this is also true other Orenda titles) there is that there is a magnificent sensation of location to be experienced when you read. Although I have never been to Finland Kati Hiekkapelto made dark woods and icy cold Finish towns come alive around me.  Despite reading The Defenceless by a Spanish swimming pool in the height of summer I felt the chill of a Finish winter – the creeping darkness in the cold Northern nights. The sensation of ‘being there’ lifts an already strong story and makes the reader feel they are part of the adventure.

The Defenceless is a terrific read, atmospheric with the great mix of twists and unexpected discoveries playing out with a strong and likeable lead character. I am very much looking forward to the next book from Kati Hiekkapelto.

 

The Defenceless is published by Orenda Books and is available in paperback and digital format.

 

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September 12

Solomon Creed – Simon Toyne

solomon creed [30763]I am delighted to be able to host today’s leg of the Solomon Creed Blog Tour.

Solomon Creed is the magnificent book from Simon Toyne and I am delighted to be able to share the opening chapter with you:

1

In the beginning is the road – and me walking along it.

I have no memory of who I am, or where I have come from, or how I came to be here. There is only the road

and the desert stretching away to a burnt sky in every

direction

and there is me.

Anxiety bubbles within me and my legs scissor, pushing me forward through hot air as if they know something I don’t. I feel like telling them to slow down, but even in my confused state I know you don’t talk to your legs, not unless you’re crazy, and I don’t think I’m crazy – I don’t think so.

I stare down the shimmering ribbon of tarmac, rising and falling over the undulating land, its straight edges made wavy by intense desert heat. It makes the road seem insubstantial and the way ahead uncertain and my anxiety burns bright because of it. I feel there’s something important to do here, and that I am here to do it, but I cannot remember what.

I try to breathe slowly, dredging a recollection from some deep place that this is meant to be calming, and catch different scents in the dry desert air – the coal-tar sap of a broken creosote bush branch, the sweet sugar rot of fallen saguaro fruit, the arid perfume of agave pollen – each thing so clear to me, so absolutely itself and correct and known. And from the solid seed of each named thing more information grows –  Latin names, medicinal properties, common names, whether each is edible or poisonous. The same happens when I glance to my left or right, each glimpsed thing sparking new names and fresh torrents of facts until my head hums with it all. I know the world entirely it seems and yet I know nothing of myself. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t even know my own name.

The wind gusts at my back, pushing me forward and bringing a new smell that makes my anxiety are into fear. It is smoke, oily and acrid, and a half-formed memory slides in with it that there is something awful lying on the road behind me, something I need to get away from.

I break into a run, staring forward, not daring to glance behind. The blacktop feels hard and hot against the soles of my feet. I look down to discover that I’m not wearing shoes. My feet ash as they pound the road, my skin pure white in the bright sunshine. I hold my hand up and it’s the same, so white I have to narrow my eyes against the glare of it. I can feel my skin starting to redden in the fierce sun and know that I need to get out of this desert, away from this sun and the thing on the road behind me. I fix on a rise in the road, feeling if I can reach it then I will be safe, that the way ahead will be clearer.

The wind blows hard, bringing the smell of smoke again and smothering all other scents like a poisonous blanket. Sweat starts to soak my shirt and the dark grey material of my jacket. I should take it off, cool myself down a little, but the thicker material is giving me protection from the burning sun so I turn the collar up instead and keep on running. One step then another – forward and away, forward and away – asking myself questions between each step – Who am I? Where am I? Why am I here? – repeating each one until something starts to take shape in the blankness of my empty mind. An answer. A name. ‘James Coronado.’ I say it aloud in a gasp of breath before it is lost again and pain sears into my left shoulder.

My voice comes as a surprise to me, soft and strange and unfamiliar, but the name does not. I recognize it and say it again – James Coronado, James Coronado – over and over, hoping the name might be mine and might drag more about who I am from my silent memory. But the more I say it, the more distant it becomes until I’m certain the name is not mine. It feels apart from me though still connected in some way, as if I have made a promise to this man, one that I am bound to keep.

I reach the crest of the road and a new section of desert comes into view. In the distance I see a road sign, and beyond that, a town, spreading like a dark stain across the lower slopes of a range of red mountains.

I raise my hand to shield my eyes so I might read the name on the sign, but it is too far away and heat blurs the words. There is movement on the road, way off at the edge of town.

Vehicles.

Heading this way. Red and blue lights flashing on their roofs.

The wail of sirens mingles with the roar of the smoke-filled wind and I feel trapped between the two. I look to my right and consider leaving the road and heading out into the desert. A new smell reaches me, drifting from somewhere out in the wilderness, something that seems more familiar to me than all the other things. It is the smell of something dead and rotting, lying somewhere out of sight, sunbaked and fetid and caramel-sweet, like a premonition of what will befall me if I stray from the road.

Sirens in front of me, death either side, and behind me, what?

Simon Toyne by Toby Madden
Simon Toyne by Toby Madden

I have to know.

I turn to gaze upon what I have been running from and the whole world is on fire.

An aircraft lies broken and blazing in the centre of the road, its wings sticking up from the ground like the folded wings of some huge burning beast. A wide circle of flame surrounds it, spreading rapidly as flames leap from plant to plant and lick up the sides of giant saguaro, their burning arms raised in surrender, their flesh splitting and hissing as the water inside boils and explodes in puffs of steam.

It is magnificent. Majestic. Terrifying.

The sirens grow louder and the flames roar. One of the wings starts to fall, trailing flame as it topples and filling the air with the tortured sound of twisting metal. It lands with a whump, and a wave of fire rolls up into the air, curling like a tentacle that seems to reach down the road for me, reaching out, wanting me back.

I stagger backwards, turn on my heels. And I run.

 

Solomon Creed is published by Harper Collins and is available in Hardback and digital formats now.

Order via Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Solomon-Creed-Simon-Toyne/dp/0007551355/ref=sr_1_1_twi_har_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1442011831&sr=1-1&keywords=solomon+creed+simon+toyne

 

Follow the Solomon Creed Blog Tour

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September 1

Setting – Melissa Bailey: Beyond The Sea

The #BookConnectors Round The World blog tour has commenced its long journey in my native land of Scotland. If you have never had the opportunity to experience the remote and haunting beauty of Scotland’s West coast and the Western Isles then Beyond The Sea by today’s guest, Melissa Bailey, should immediately be added to your shopping list.

Melissa has kindly taken some time to share some of her memories on the places and events which inspired Beyond The Sea. The pictures are also Melissa’s and beautifully compliment her writing (while also allowing us the chance to show off some of Scotland’s beauty on this Round The World blog tour).

 

I have been asked a lot about the setting of Beyond the Sea, and why I chose the Hebrides as the landscape in which the action of the novel plays out.

View from The Old Man of Storr (Skye)
View from The Old Man of Storr (Skye)

While the book emerged from a single image of a woman, her hair turned white in grief, standing alone by the sea, a lighthouse in the near distance behind her, I think I probably knew even then, way back in the beginning when I didn’t know much else, that the woman was standing on a beach in the Inner Hebrides. It is a part of the world that I love and have been visiting for many years: Mull, Iona, Skye and the small islands, the stunningly isolated Rum, Canna, Muck and Eigg. I’m drawn to its raw beauty, its wildness, the fact that the weather can change in an instant, sunshine becoming rain becoming sleet. It is brutal, elemental, timeless – craggy mountain ranges, desolate moorlands, restless ever shifting seas.

And yet, I feel there is also something redemptive, magical almost about this landscape. The sea takes away, and yet it also gives back. It is an endless, eternal pattern. The sea is often death, but it is also life. So the remote fringes of the British Isles, the untamed edges of civilisation, seemed a very natural and fitting backdrop for a woman touched by devastating loss, her emotions as turbulent and fast changing as the winds or the tides, but perhaps moving slowly towards redemption.

The Sound of Mull
The Sound of Mull

So a story began to evolve. The woman became Freya, whose husband and son vanish at sea the year before the novel begins. She returns to the lighthouse keeper’s cottage they once called home, seeking solace, trying to lay to rest the dreams that haunt her sleep. I began to research the Hebrides in more detail, stories of storms and shipwrecks, tales of mythical islands and mermaids. I read, amongst a great deal of other things, Martin Martin’s ‘A description of the Western Islands of Scotland circa 1695’, which documented not only the geography of the islands but the ancient rituals and practices of the islanders. For example, they would sometimes take a turn, east to west, to ward off evil spirits after disembarking from a boat; they would drink from ‘magical’ wells. They accorded reverence to those with ‘second sight’ who often predicted through visions or dreams things which later came to pass. As with many isolated communities, the supernatural was accepted as present in the everyday – and I wanted it to fit just as naturally into my novel.

Sometime later, I found myself on a ferry leaving Oban (in mainland Scotland) for Mull. The day was cold and overcast as I stood on deck, looking down at the churning sea. As the ferry advanced up the Sound of Mull and we passed Duart Castle in the south east corner of the island, I remembered from my research that the Swan, a Cromwellian warship, had sunk at this exact spot on 13 September 1653 – almost 360 years ago to the day. I began to think about sailors and letters in bottles and the historical thread of the novel began to emerge. This journey, made in 2013, is the same one taken by Freya in Chapter 1 of the novel.

Duart Castle, Mull
Duart Castle, Mull

I travelled all over Mull that autumn, circling the whole island on its single track roads. I drove along the A849, from Craignure to Fionnphort (the same route that Freya also takes), following the meandering of the Lussa river, past the towering grandeur of Ben More and the beautiful desolation of the Glen at its feet. I passed the three lochs, emerging into the lowlands around Loch Scridain, and watched the sunshine turn its seawater brilliant blue. When I reached the western shore, I looked over to Iona, just a stone’s throw away, the Abbey clearly visible until the mist rolled in later that day.

Dubh Artach
Dubh Artach

I drove to Knockvologan on the south of the island, waited until low tide, and then crossed the exposed white sand beaches of the tidal island of Erraid (the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped). I trekked past the now abandoned lighthouse keepers’ cottages and tried to imagine what it would be like to live on a tiny island like this, isolation complete when the sea rolled back in. Out in the vastness of the ocean, I caught sight of the shadowy lighthouse, Dubh Artach, floating on the horizon, somewhere between land and sea, a mirage perhaps.

Dubh Artach was built 15 miles south west of Mull upon a black rock that sits just above sea level. Perched at the end of an Atlantic submarine valley, it encounters ferocious sea conditions including waves of up to 30m in height. Many have told of the harsh realities of tending the light. Billy Frazer, one of Dubh Artach’s old keepers, recounted the everyday challenges of life at the lighthouse and his face to face encounter with what he called ‘the big wave’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00dszc3) But his story was not unusual – there are countless other tales from keepers in the Hebrides of danger and disappearance, depression and madness.

Ben More
Ben More

So the lighthouse was also crucial in establishing the mood of the novel. While it is a symbol of sanctuary, of hope, of light in the darkness, it is simultaneously the quintessential symbol of isolation and loneliness – loneliness that can prey upon an already precarious sanity. It seemed to be a wholly appropriate place for Freya to live – a very visual image of her emotional state.

 

 

After I returned from Mull that autumn, the novel really started to take shape. Myth and fairy tale fed into history, fact fed into fiction. Beyond the Sea is Freya’s story, but it is also the story of the Hebrides, the lighthouse and the sea – all characters in their own right.

 

Beyond The Sea is published by Arrow and is available in paperback and digital format.
You can order the book through Amazon here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0099584956?keywords=beyond%20the%20sea%20melissa%20bailey&qid=1440970840&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Also available from Waterstones here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/beyond-the-sea/melissa-bailey/9780099584957

 

 

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September 1

Beyond The Sea – Melissa Bailey

Beyond The SeaOne summer’s day, Freya’s husband and son vanish at sea.

A year on, and struggling to cope, Freya returns to the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage on a remote Hebridean island, where she and her family spent so many happy times.

Haunted by visions of her old life, Freya’s dreams are dark and disturbed. And when a stranger, Daniel, is washed ashore during a storm, they turn even more menacing.

As dream and reality start to merge, Daniel seems to be following Freya’s every move. What does he want from her and is he everything he seems to be?

Is her mind playing tricks? Or is the danger that she senses very real?

 

Beyond The Sea is a tale of loss set in one of the remotest outreaches of the wilds of Scotland. It will transport the reader to a beautiful wilderness where lead character, Freya, is on a personal journey to rebuild her life after the loss of her husband and son 12 months earlier.

Freya’s family were lost at sea off the Hebridean coast, she has not returned to the family home since her husband’s boat failed to return from a trip out on the ocean. We are quickly made aware that Freya has not coped well with her grief and has relied heavily upon her sister in the intervening months. Now, one year on, she is facing the ghosts of her past and coming home.

‘Home’ is amongst the remote Hebridean Islands off the Scottish coast. Melissa Bailey portrays the beautiful isolation and the closeness of the island communities wonderfully. It is impossible not to feel for Freya as she ventures back into the life she once embraced and see how friends respond to her return.

But there is a depth to Beyond The Sea which brings through the sense of history and location. Stories within stories – there are tales of the sea, legends of the area, history of lighthouses and the letters of a sailor which have been recovered after over 400 years and are interspersed through the book. I loved the myths and legends that Melissa Bailey has interwoven into Freya’s story and, despite my desire to find out what was happening to Freya, I also wanted more of the folklore – an extra treat as I read.

I am always keen to ensure I avoid spoilers so I cannot share too much about how Beyond The Sea plays out. Suffice to say I found the story captivating, tragic and fascinating – an enriching read and one that I highly recommend.

 

Beyond The Sea is published by Arrow and is available in paperback and digital format.
You can order the book through Amazon here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0099584956?keywords=beyond%20the%20sea%20melissa%20bailey&qid=1440970840&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Also available from Waterstones here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/beyond-the-sea/melissa-bailey/9780099584957

 

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August 14

Ava Marsh – Untouchable Q&A

Untouchable coverToday I am delighted to welcome Ava Marsh to Grab This Book.  Ava’s novel Untouchable released earlier this year in digital format and instantly became one of my favourite books that I have discussed on this blog (review link below).  This week Untouchable receives a paperback release and Ava has kindly taken some time to answer a few of my questions:

 

Shall we start with an easy one? Tell me about Untouchable and who is Stella?

Untouchable is the story of a high-class escort, Stella, who finds herself uncovering a top-level conspiracy after the murder of friend and fellow call girl Elisa. But as she becomes more deeply enmired in Elisa’s death, Stella’s own shadowy past starts to catch up with her.

Can you outline Untouchable for me in a single sentence?

Oh goodness, I’m so rubbish at summing things up neatly. How about ‘call girl revenge saga’? Hmm, no. Okay, what about ‘Gone Girl meets 50 Shades’? Perhaps not. I think I’ll go with ‘a compelling story about one woman’s fight for justice against a powerful and corrupt elite.’

You will probably be aware that there was considerable Twitter speculation over how you researched the lifestyle of an escort. Is there a balance of research and author imagination or did you actually base Stella’s routine on recounted events?

You’re right, I have been asked that question a few times! The truth is it’s a combination of both. I know several intelligent, professional women who have gone into escorting, for various reasons, and some of the scenes in Untouchable reflect their experiences. But there’s also a wealth of stuff on the internet; many escorts have blogged about their lifestyle, and how they feel about it, so it’s not hard to research.

And yes, I just made a lot up.

As Stella/Grace is the hero of the story does that make her clients default villains?  At no time while I read Untouchable did I feel that the reader was asked to make judgment on prostitutes or their clients.

I’m pleased you didn’t. I get tired of the widely-held stereotypes and general demonization of prostitution. Not all prostitutes are alike, just as not all writers are alike either – there is a world of difference between a woman with a drug habit working in Kings Cross to someone operating at Stella’s level, just as there is all the difference between being a hack writer for the Daily Mail and writing 1,000 page literary novels a la Donna Tartt or Haruki Murakami. The idea that all escorts are downtrodden or degraded by their work just isn’t true, as Brooke Magnanti (Belle de Jour) has amply illustrated.

The same holds for punters. Men have myriad reasons for paying for sex, and many of those reasons are perfectly understandable. It’s not uncommon for men to find themselves stranded in sexless marriages, for instance, and rather than leave their wife or have an affair, some decide that discreet, paid-for physical companionship is the lesser of several evils. Which is entirely fair enough, in my opinion.

Did you ever consider that you were taking a risk making your lead character a prostitute? I cannot imagine everyone will respond sympathetically to a character that has chosen this lifestyle.

I did consider it. I think there’s still a huge taboo around sex work, and there’s always the danger of being tainted by association. But I wanted to tell Stella’s story, as well as undermine some of the popular mythology around escorting.

This may be a bit of a chicken/egg question: as Untouchable developed did you start with the idea of building a story around escorts? Or was the basis of the story in your head and the characters (and their profession) subsequently fell into place?

Untouchable started when I realised that high-end escorts can find themselves in a unique position of interacting with sometimes very powerful men, in a situation where those men might well let down their guard. That led me to start wondering what might happen if an escort heard or discovered something significant or dangerous. What might she do with that information? How might she react?

I know that Untouchable has been available digitally for some time – does holding a paperback of your novel make it feel more special or real?

There’s nothing quite like holding your book for the first time. Especially when it has a lovely velvety-feel cover like Untouchable.

You were one third of the Femmes Fatales panel during the Brit Crime online book festival.  As a reader I found the whole event an absolute joy, how was it from the author viewpoint?  

Oh, such fun. I love interacting with other writers and with readers, and will debate anything almost endlessly. Just wind me up and watch me go!

A few years ago I was at the Aye Write festival in Glasgow and I got to hear Mark Billingham and Jo Nesbo compare their ‘journey’ to publication.  How long did it take you to get Untouchable from concept to a finished article that readers could enjoy?

Untouchable got its fair share of rejections. A number of agents and editors seemed unsure how to peg the book, especially as it’s fairly explicit. In terms of the time it took to write, that was about six months, then another six or so to find an agent and publisher. After that came the long slog of editing and tweaking and waiting for publication, which in this case was about 18 months after acceptance. You need patience to survive in this industry.

On a more personal level, what do you enjoy reading? Who do you consider to be your favourite authors?

When I was younger I tackled many of the classics with enthusiasm, and I still read quite a few literary novels. I particularly love Haruki Murakami, Anne Tyler, Kate Atkinson and Donna Tartt. In recent years I’ve been drawn more to genre fiction – hard to pick favourites, but Gillian Flynn is a fabulous prose stylist, while Elizabeth Haynes, Sarah Ward, Mark Edwards, Eva Dolan, and SJI Holliday are all up there on my must-read list.

When do you find time to write?

Whenever I can find the energy. I tend to fit it in around whatever else I’m doing, though I’m trying to prioritise it more these days.

Can you give us any clues as to what you are working on now?

Certainly. My next book, currently in the first round of structural edits, is called Exposure and kicks off with a porn star in prison for double murder. The rest of the story essentially explores how she landed up there.

When not writing how do you enjoy spending your downtime?

Downtime? What’s that? On my rare days off I like to get out and get active – running and kayaking both help me work off a head of steam. I read, obviously, and go to the cinema as often as I can. I also watch a lot of news and documentaries.

These days it’s the ordinary stuff that pleases me more and more. Too much drama puts me off my writing stride. I save it for my novels.

 

My thanks to Ava for joining me today.  As promised my review can be found here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=773

 

The Untouchable blog tour continues on Monday 17th with @crimethrillgirl

UntouchableBlogTour (2) [77433]

Untouchable is available in paperback and digital format.

Ava Marsh is on Twitter: @MsAvaMarsh

And online at:  http://www.avamarsh.co.uk/

Category: 5* Reviews, Blog Tours | Comments Off on Ava Marsh – Untouchable Q&A
August 1

Sarah Hilary – No Other Darkness

No Other Darkness PbkToday I am delighted to be able to welcome Sarah Hilary back to Grab This Book. Sarah’s second Marnie Rome novel No Other Darkness has just released in paperback and today’s visit is my leg of the Blog Tour.

I know Sarah is a horror fan and I was keen to find out if this filtered through into her writing:

 

It’s alive! Tapping the rich vein of horror

by Sarah Hilary

If you have a sofa handy this might be the moment to duck behind it. Because I’m going to riff about how much I love horror. This will come as no surprise to readers of my Marnie Rome series. No Other Darkness starts in an underground bunker, and doesn’t really let up until the very end.

Adding a dash of horror is a worthy tradition in literature; the Brothers Grimm were writing about cannibalism a century before Thomas Harris gave us Hannibal Lector, and it’s hard to beat the Room 101 rats in Orwell’s 1984 for nail-biting nightmare potential.

Crime writers have known this trick for decades, seasoning our stories with a dash of darkness. Arthur Conan Doyle served it up in spades, from The Hound of the Baskervilles to The Creeping Man.

Photo by Linda Nylind.
Photo by Linda Nylind.

Contemporary crime writers use horror to great effect, too. Mo Hayder’s Tokaloshe in Ritual and its sequel, Skin, is a blood-curdling example of how a skilled writer can weave a disturbing sense of the supernatural into hard-hitting crime stories. French crime writer, Fred Vargas, has given us ghosts, werewolves, plague rats and vampires. Enough supernatural horror to satisfy any aficionado, although Vargas (like Hayder) does a neat line in explaining everything in rational terms in the end.

 

Horror works best when it’s used sparingly. A surfeit can force the reader to look away or worse—to laugh in order to relieve the tension. Maestros know this and will provide a little light relief so that you chuckle in the intended places (usually right before you jump a foot in the air). The very best exponent of this is George A. Romero, one of my favourite film directors. Yes, zombies can be funny — cheerleader zombies, barbershop quartet zombies, Hari Krishna zombies — but always watch out for your feet and elbows. (If I have a criticism of The Walking Dead it’s that it lacks a sense of humour.)

A glimpse of the monster under the bed (or in it) is always more effective than a lingering twelve page forensic examination. Plant a seed, refer to it on occasion to be sure the idea doesn’t die in the reader’s mind, let their imagination get to work. Then—let them have it.

No Other Darkness, I hope, lets you have it with both barrels.

There’s a little horror lurking in everyone’s head. My job is to let that little horror out to play.

Blog Tour

My review of No Other Darkness can be found here:  http://grabthisbook.net/?p=468

Back in April Sarah kindly took time to join me for a Q&A to discuss No Other Darkness, our chat is here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=743

No Other Darkness is available in paperback in all good bookshops and can be purchased in digital format too.

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