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/

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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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July 24

Guest Post: Neil White – The Domino Killer

25643638Today I am delighted to welcome Neil White to the blog. Neil’s new thriller, The Domino Killer, is released on 30th July and my review appears below.  

Regular visitors to the blog may know that I like to ask my guests to discuss why they feel readers like stories about serial killers.  Today I ask Neil White to step into the spotlight and share his thoughts on our serial killer fascination.

 

Over to Neil: Why are readers attracted to serial killers?

The answer is wider than that, because the question is really why are people attracted to serial killers. TV viewers devour factual shows that highlight the trail left behind by some maniac. Newspapers sell copies when a new mystery arises. The water cooler debates swell when there’s a new psychopath in town.

People are attracted to serial killers, so when readers turn to a book, it is no surprise that serial killer novels feature highly.

So why the attraction?

People are attracted to death. It’s why people peer over the edge of a cliff, even though they are scared of falling. They edge forward but the need to see over is compelling. But they don’t peer over the edge to see how nice the beach looks. They look to see how awful it would be to fall, to crash onto the rocks. Staring at death is life-affirming, re-assured by that quiet sigh of relief as you step back, safe again on the clifftop.

Then there’s the fascination with someone doing something they cannot comprehend doing, along with the vicarious tingle of fear.

People can understand some murders. The crime of passion, for example, or when violence goes too far when wearing the red mask of rage. But cold-blooded killings done just to satisfy an urge? Most people are not capable of that, cannot understand it, so it’s easy to be fascinated by someone who can plumb those dark depths.

Ian Brady described serial killers as the only brave ones in the world, because they are the ones who are fearless enough to give vent to their fantasies with no thought of the consequences. That’s complete nonsense, just grandiose boasting from a man who lives off scraps of infamy, but it’s an insight into his thinking, that it is all about the fantasy, about the lack of fear of the consequences, that the lack of empathy means that there is no thought for the victims. The victims are an irrelevance.

neilThat is so different from the usual human experience. On the whole, people empathise, couldn’t hurt someone just for the pleasure of it. There usually has to be a reason, like hiding behind a war or political cause or because their emotions got the better of them. We can understand those reasons. We cannot understand the selfishness of a serial killer, so we are fascinated by people who behave differently.

There is also the second reason, that tingle of fear.

We read thrillers to be thrilled, read horror to be horrified, read scary stories to be scared. We enjoy that fear, because we know it isn’t real. It’s some distant thing, a shiver to be relished, that we have been dragged into the dark world of the killer, are brushed by that madness.

But distance is the crucial thing. Ripper walks are an industry in London, where the crowd oohs and aahs as the guide describes how women were slaughtered, running his thumb up his body to show the track of the knife at the spots where they died. I confess that, even now, when I go to London, I find myself in Spitalfields at the end of the day, enjoying a pint in the Ten Bells, where Mary Kelly spent her last night, trying to evoke the feeling of how it must have been back then, looking for the shadows of the Ripper.

Imagine how you would fare if you tried to organise such a guided tour around Leeds and Bradford, where Peter Sutcliffe murdered his victims. It would evoke rage. It would be wrong. Too close. Too recent.

So distance is crucial. It has to be a remote fear, a view from afar, because we love the tingle of fear but we like to be safe, where no one really gets hurt. Crime thrillers do that. They allow a glimpse over the cliff edge, but fundamentally it’s for the relief when the killer is caught, when the book is closed and our own lives are untouched

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July 24

The Domino Killer – Neil White

25643638When a man is found beaten to death in a local Manchester park, Detective Constable Sam Parker is one of the investigating officers. Sam swiftly identifies the victim, but what at first looks like an open and shut case quickly starts to unravel when he realises that the victim’s fingerprints were found on a knife at another crime scene, a month earlier.

Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Joe – a criminal defence lawyer in the city – comes face to face with a man whose very presence sends shockwaves through his life. Joe must confront the demons of his past as he struggles to come to terms with the darkness that this man represents.

Before long, Joe and Sam are in way over their heads, both sucked into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to change their lives for ever…

 

My thanks to Little, Brown UK who provided a review copy through Netgalley

 

The Domino Killer was my first introduction to Neil White’s books. The two central characters, Sam and Joe Parker, had clearly featured in previous books so the first question I have to address is “Does not knowing the back-story create any problems?” The answer would seem to be NO. I suspect that there are several elements which will reward returning readers that (as a new reader) I totally failed to grasp the significance of. However, as an introduction to the Parker brothers I found The Domino Killer to be a great read – important events and incidents from previous novels were explained (or discussed in such a way that I never got confused with the latest developments.

The book opens with a particularly nasty murder. In a lonely park on a dark evening a man is beaten to death, he dies clutching a bunch of flowers. An illicit rendezvous gone wrong perhaps? The police investigate but not much progress is being made. However, all this will change when a second murder is committed and the two deaths are found to be linked in the most unexpected of ways.

Meanwhile lawyer, Joe Parker, is called out late to meet a new client, a man who is accused of stealing and then torching his own car. What seems a routine client call is about to send Joe’s world into chaos – although he has never previously met his client he knows who he is as the two men are bound by a single event, one which has shaped Joe’s whole life.

The Domino Killer is a captivating read and the villain of the piece is one of the nastier characters I have encountered in recent reads. I enjoyed the fact the two Parker brothers adopt very different approaches to counter the perceived threat they feel they face. Sam, the policeman, follows procedure and acts within the confines of the law. His brother, Joe, is a defence lawyer – however, Joe has a secret that has haunted him for many a year and the Domino Killer knows this. Joe finds himself confronting a demon from his past and he is prepared to sacrifice friendships and his career to put the ghosts of his past to rest.

Neil White writes with an easy, entertaining and very readable style. The action ticks along at a great pace and I found I wanted to keep reading long after I should have been setting the book down. Although I only finished The Domino Killer within the last week or so I have already picked up a couple of Neil’s earlier books to add to my TBR pile.

 

The Domino Killer is published by Little, Brown UK Ltd and is available from 30th July in both hardback and digital formats.

Neil White is on Twitter: @neilwhite1965

He also has a wee corner of the internet at: http://www.neilwhite.net/

 

 

 

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July 22

Secret Life & Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne – Andrew Nicoll

Secret Life Miss Jean MilneWhen the door opened and he came out, there came with him the stench of a dead thing, the sweet, sulphurous, warm, rotten chicken smell that only ever comes from unburied flesh.

A dead body is found in a locked house. It has been stabbed in a frenzy, the hands and feet bound, the skull smashed, false teeth knocked from its jaws. Blood pools around the corpse and drips from the staircase. Yet nothing is missing: money and valuables remain untouched. Who could have murdered an old woman in such a horrifying way? And why?

This is the mystery facing Sergeant John Fraser and Detective Lieutenant Trench when wealthy spinster Miss Jean Milne is murdered in the quiet seaside town of Broughty Ferry. Yet, despite an abundance of clues and apparent witnesses, the investigation proves troublesome: suspects are elusive and Miss Milne herself is found to be far from a model of propriety. And when sensational headlines put pressure on the police force to find a culprit, Fraser and Trench must work fast to prevent the wrong man from going to the gallows. But will they ever unravel the secret life and curious death of Miss Jean Milne?

I am delighted to have the opportunity to host the latest leg of the blog tour for The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne. My thanks to Black & White Publishing for my review copy.

My memories of visiting Broughty Ferry are of a nice wee town on sitting on the edge of Dundee. ‘Nice’ seems to damn it with faint praise but in Andrew Nicoll’s The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne (hereafter dubbed Secret Life) Broughty Ferry DOES seem nice. It is 1912 and in a small Scottish town life is calm, somewhat predictable and everyone knows everyone else. Not the sort of place you would expect to encounter a brutal murder – unfortunately for the titular Miss Milne a very brutal murder is exactly what we do find.

Secret Life is based upon a true (unsolved) murder. Andrew Nicoll has done a magnificent job of bringing the past to life and putting the reader into the heart of a murder investigation. We follow the developments with Sgt John Fraser of the Broughty Ferry police force. He was present when Miss Milne’s body is discovered and is responsible for assisting with much of the investigation that follows. It is an investigation which starts in Scotland but extends to London and even over the Channel to Belgium.

It is a complex and confusing case for Sgt Fraser; not helped by the fact it is not clear when Miss Milne actually died. In a small town the police are looking for strangers who may be responsible for committing such a foul deed. Unfortunately, Miss Milne has lead a somewhat unorthodox life and was fond of travelling. She seems to have received a number of gentlemen callers in the period leading up to her death which give the police a bit of a headache in tracking anyone down.

Or DID she? Witnesses seem somewhat unreliable and when faced with the intimidating policemen of 1912 the more genteel members of this quiet town may just tell the police what they believe the police want to hear.

I loved how Andrew Nicoll has captured the feel of the early 20th Century. The police expect (and receive) respect. The townspeople are scandalized but want a gossip. The servants and labourers are broadly ignored until it suggested that they may be able to help. Despite knowing you are reading a work of fiction everything feels very real, huge credit to the author for this.

Based on a true story but not actually a true story, Andrew Nicoll has provided a solution to the 100 year old mystery. A satisfying solution I felt and I enjoyed how matters were wrapped up. Secret Life is an enjoyable and highly entertaining read and I would urge to you to seek it out. As I write (22nd July 2015) you can purchase The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne for just 49p on Kindle: cheaper than a bar of chocolate and much more satisfying!

Jean Milne Blog Tour

The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne is published by Black & White Publishing and is available in paperback and (as noted above) in digital format.

Andrew Nicoll is on Twitter: @AndrewSNicoll

 

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June 28

The 3rd Woman – Jonathan Freedland

The 3rd Woman Jacket imageJournalist Madison Webb is obsessed with exposing lies and corruption. But she never thought she would be investigating her own sister’s murder.

SHE CAN’T TRUST THE POLICE

Madison refuses to accept the official line that Abigail’s death was an isolated crime. She uncovers evidence that suggests Abi was the third victim in a series of killings hushed up as part of a major conspiracy.

SHE CAN EXPOSE THE TRUTH

In a United States that now bows to the People’s Republic of China, corruption is rife – the government dictates what the ‘truth’ is. With her life on the line, Madison must give up her quest for justice, or face the consequences…

 

Day Three of The Third Woman blog tour and we are getting ever closer to publication on 2nd July.

 

Sometimes you can read a book and you know from quite early on that you are going to enjoy it. You get caught up in the story from the off: the lead character is engaging, the drama unfolding is gripping and in the background there is a (seemingly) unconnected plot which you KNOW will become very relevant. That was my experience with The Third Woman…hooked, drawn in and captivated.

There was a real sense of scale in reading The 3rd Woman, it reads like a Hollywood blockbuster movie. The lead character works for one of the biggest newspapers in America, the LA Times. There is an international tension building between the United States and the all-powerful People’s Republic of China (who now maintain a presence on US soil). Also, the apparent suicide of a school teacher is catching the attention of the mayor of California, why is he feeding false information to the press about the dead girl?

Well the dead girl in question is the ‘baby’ sister of investigative journalist Maddison Webb. Maddison is not satisfied with the official explanation of suicide and seeks answers to help her deal with her grief. It should probably come as no surprise to learn that suicide is quickly ruled out and our story becomes a personal mission to track down a murderer.

There are different threads to The 3rd Woman which all interweave in a delightfully twisty way. Maddison’s investigations cross with the local election campaign that the mayor is contesting. Maddy uses her position at The LA Times to expose her suspicions but this leads to conflicts at the paper and when she starts to rely on her contacts within the police we see how the Authorities try to shut down her renegade investigations. The ominous presence hanging over the whole story is that of the Chinese. In The 3rd Woman the Chinese are very clearly the enemy of the American people who resent their presence on their territory.

Photo by Philippa Gedge
Photo by Philippa Gedge

Jonathan Freedland has created a believable environment in which to base this story. Maddison uses Social Media outlet ‘Weibo’ to communicate with her followers. The Americans have a tense diplomatic relationship with the People’s Republic of China who now seem to carry more authority/influence in California than the mayor. It adds a delightful political undercurrent to all the conflicts and actions of the press and politicians.

I am quite certain that The 3rd Woman is going to be big. It is a powerful story, well told and has a brilliant roller-coaster of thrills and twists. Definitely a book to look out for this summer – perfect airport pickup!

 

 

 

The 3rd Woman is published by Harper Collins on 2 July 2015. You can pre-order the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-3rd-Woman-Jonathan-Freedland/dp/0007413688/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1435242557&sr=8-1

 

Jonathan Freedland is on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Freedland

Follow the Tour join in on Twitter through #The3rdWoman

JFBLOGTOURBANNER

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