July 27

Guest Post – A.K. Benedict: Serial Heroes

Earlier this year I was thrilled to have the chance to interview A.K. Benedict about her new novel Jonathan Dark Or The Evidence of Ghosts and also her Torchwood audio play The Victorian Age. A crime story (with ghosts) and also a play starring Captain Jack Harkness? A.K. Benedict seemed to have found my entertainment wish list and written everything I liked.

When I decided I would try to run this third series of my Serial Heroes features I thought it was a perfect opportunity to invite A.K. Benedict back to Grab This Book. If she writes stories I love then perhaps we also read the same authors too? It turns out that in this case we do…

 

AK BenedictI first found Agatha Christie while trying to murder my friends. It was a 10th birthday party and, being a macabre child, insisted on Murder in the Dark instead of the passé Pass the Parcel. Everyone took a piece of paper from a beige Tupperware bowl. Most were blank but on one was the word ‘Murderer’, on another ‘Detective’. I was the designated murderer.

Lights off, everyone scattered, stumbling about the house in the dark. I located my first victim easily using my keen olfactory sense. She was sitting on the stairs eating Opal Fruits. I whispered ‘You’re Dead’ in her ear then ruined it by saying, ‘Sorry.’  I then went upstairs, fake-slaughtering a few nine year olds along the way, and into my friend’s mum’s bedroom. I felt my way around the room and found a large bookshelf. Running my fingers across the books, I could feel many slim paperbacks with cracked spines and tears on the covers. These books had been read many times. I had to know what they were. I turned on the lights.

Wedged tight on the shelf was, it turns out, every one of Agatha Christie’s books. I pulled out The ABC Murders, sat on the bed and started to read. I was gripped immediately. I completely forgot that I was supposed to kill the rest of the party-goers and was found on the floor, reading, by several friends, furious at not being murdered.

My friend’s mum, however, knew a budding crime fan when she saw one and lent me the book. I read it overnight and took it back the next morning. She gave me another one. And another one the next day. I spent the summer holidays of 1988 reading one Christie a day, sitting under a tree and eating mint-flavoured Clubs. It was brilliant. I loved Miss Marple, Poirot and Harley Quin. I wanted to play Murder in the Dark with them at my party.

MarpleI went on to love all kinds of crime fiction but it all comes back to Christie. Every year, I read all of her books again. Each time I’m drawn in by the conversational tone that belies the darkness, the humour and the crisply written settings and characters. Christie twists me round her crooked finger: she hooks, hoodwinks and hustles better than any other writer I’ve read. I even named my dog after my favourite Marple – Dame Margaret Rutherford.

ABC murdersWhile I have favourites (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 4.50 from Paddington, And Then There Were None, The Crooked House), I am still most fond of The ABC Murders. I live near Bexhill where poor Betty Barnard is killed in the novel and always think of her as I walk on the beach. I love visiting places that resonate with Christie connections: I can’t go to Paddington without wondering if I’ll see something untoward from the train. There are two places where I feel most connected to her: Greenway, her holiday home now a National Trust property, and The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. Christie was found at the hotel following her infamous disappearance. It’s a thrill to get lost, as I did this morning, in The Old Swan’s corridors and pass the bedroom marked AGATHA.

I’m now sitting on The Old Swan’s lawn at the annual Theakston’s Crime Festival, about to read a new Hercule Poirot book by Sophie Hannah. The Monogram Murders is dedicated to Agatha Christie and, even a few pages in, is a brilliant way continuation of her characters long after her death.

 

A.K. Benedict’s books can be ordered by clicking through this link.

Alternatively visit her rather fabulous website at http://www.akbenedict.com/
A.K. Benedict is also on Twitter at: @ak_benedict

 

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July 25

Guest Post – Nick Quantrill: Serial Heroes

The third run of Serial Heroes continues.

As a reader I worry that I am missing out on some great books, there are so many talented authors and as any bookworm will remind you “so many books, so little time.” So I am asking some of my favourite authors if they will join me to talk about their favourite books. Or more specifically their favourite series of books.

I want to know about the characters they enjoy revisiting, the new release that they will most look forward to or the books on their bookcase that they return to over and over again.

Fresh from the happy chaos that is Harrogate I am delighted to welcome Nick Quantrill back to Grab This Book. I particularly enjoyed reading Nick’s selection as I will confess that this is a series I have yet to read so I can happily grow my TBR pile…

 

TurnstoneFor someone with an aversion to writing police characters, I’ve always loved reading about them. My love affair with the procedural novel started when I picked up a DI Rebus novel by Ian Rankin after spotting it on my father’s bookshelf. At the time I was studying Social Policy and Criminology with the Open University, and as much fun as Rebus proved to be, it was the way Rankin engaged with the issues I was learning about which really resonated. But I wanted more, a series which featured a location that chimed with my home city of Hull, the archetypal rundown northern city.

Step forward Graham Hurley and DI Faraday. Hurley had been made an offer he couldn’t refuse – a three book deal with Orion. The catch? They had to be crime novels. The problem? Hurley, a documentary maker by trade was no fan of the genre. But shadowing a team of local detectives for a period triggered an awareness of what he could achieve with the format.

Opening with “Turnstone”, the DI Faraday series quickly widened to include the role of DS Paul Winter. Faraday is a man who feels the world, even if he doesn’t necessarily understand it, but will play by the rules to get his man. DS Paul Winter, brash and loud, knows that those rules sometimes have to bend a little and isn’t afraid to be the man who does it. But Hurley’s trump card is the introduction of major league criminal, Bazza Mackenzie.

From “Cut to Black” onwards, Mackenzie is the police’s long term major target and they have one shot to bring him down before he’s beyond their reach, his money legitimised in various projects around the city. But Mackenzie remains one step ahead, leaving Faraday empty handed and red faced. With the stakes increasing, Winter goes undercover, but discovering a taste for the dark arts of the criminal world, leaves to work as Mackenzie’s right hand man, a decision destined to set him on a collision course with Faraday.

The final essential character in the series is Portsmouth itself. A claustrophobic island city on the south coast of England with a proud sea-faring history, Hurley’s pulls no punches in a frank assessment of a city that now has multiple social problems. Hurley’s allows the city’s belligerence and unique identity to bleed into the characters, making them products of their environment, and all the more terrifying for it.

Happy DaysThe series comes to a close with “Happy Days”. Mackenzie, with his business empire crumbling to dust in the recession, seeks real power by running for Parliament in a local election. As this become all-encompassing, the lack of focus on his business empire offers Winter the opportunity to leave his employment. But you don’t leave the employment of people like Mackenzie by politely handing in your notice. For all the protagonists, there’s only one certainty – things have to be brought to a conclusion.

The series stands an overview of recent times – feral children running amok, the war in Iraq, the economic meltdown, immigration, even the changing nature of Premier League football – it all features. With Portsmouth acting as England in microcosm, The DI Faraday series appeals to the heart as much as it does to the head. Maybe it’s Hurley’s background in documentaries that gives him the edge over his contemporaries and adds a further layer of authenticity, but it’s a series which looks the world in the eye and asks the questions which have no easy answers.

 

All of Graham Hurley’s books can be ordered with a simple click through this link.

NQ photoMr Nick Quantrill also has many fine books which I would urge you to enjoy too.  Nick’s books are found here.

When Nick’s new novel The Dead Can’t Talk launched he joined me to talk about Evil Bad Guys – you can catch that here.

You can also visit www.nickquantrill.co.uk

 

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July 25

Guest Post – Derek Farrell: Serial Heroes

When I see an author photographed in front of their bookshelves I know that I am not the only person that scans the books in the background to see what they read. Rather than wait for authors to share their “shelvies” I decided it was much quicker to ask them directly which books they enjoy reading the most.

This is the third run of my Serial Heroes features but you can catch up on Season 1 here.  (Ed McBain, Jo Nesbo and Val McDermid all feature).

Season 2 is here and we had some love for James Bond, Stephen King and Batman (the ultimate serial hero)

 

Just after I finished the last run of Serial Heroes I fell into a Twitter chat with Derek Farrell about our mutual love of a series of stories we first read more than a couple of years ago. I asked Derek if he would join me to explain why this particular series appealed so much. Fortunately for the future of this feature he agreed – over to Mr Farrell…

 

Laughing ShadowI was a quiet kid, with an obsession for books of all kinds.

I didn’t make friends easily in the real world, but I made friends with the anthropomorphic cats and bears in Richard Scarry’s works, waded my way through the Famous Five books, was mates with The Hard Boys and Nancy Drew. And then something amazing happened:
My Dad bought me one of the Three Investigators books. It was The Mystery of The Laughing Shadow (Book 12 in the series), and there are a number of reasons why he might have thought the book would appeal to me:

HitchcockMy dad and I loved Alfred Hitchcock, and the books – in an early approach to celebrity endorsement / branding – were introduced by the Auteur, who often featured as a character in them. They were published by the same people who published the Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew books, and they had similar formats and cover designs.

Whatever the reason, he picked right, and a loyal and true friendship that began in 1977 has endured to today.

By the time I was introduced to Jupiter Pete and Bob, the series had already been running for 13 years, having commenced in 1964 when Robert Arthur – who had previously edited several short story collections attributed to Alfred Hitchcock – sold the idea of a series of teenage mysteries to Random House.

Over time, other writers had contributed to the series, principally William Arden (who wrote The Laughing Shadow amongst others), Nick West, and Mary Virginia (MV) Carey, who wrote many of my personal favourites.

The head investigator, Jupiter Jones, lived with his Aunt and Uncle in a vast salvage yard, and had built – amongst the scrap and salvage – an operations centre with hidden entrances; a true boy’s den. The boys, too young to drive, were driven around – thanks to a competition win – in a chauffeur driven limo, and in “The mystery of The Magic Circle,” Carey dealt with the sad isolation of faded Hollywood Fame in the same stark fashion as ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ while the animosity between the boys and their sworn enemy, the perma-cocky Skinny Norris, whose bullying attempts to spoil their plans felt, so often, like a replay of my daily life, resonated with me.

And, through all that, the boys got to hang out with Alfred Hitchcock; they seemed, permanently, to be on some extended school vacation; they lived in Southern California, and their ability to move around the entire county on only pushbikes was simply taken for granted).

Many of the normal mundanities of life – school, homework, the general depressions of a childhood in 1980s Dublin – could simply cease to exist for as long as my nose was buried in a Three Investigator book.

I stopped buying them in 1986 when I moved to London and began working. I guess I figured I was grown up now, and it was time, as they say “To put aside childish things.”
But some years later, on a visit back to Dublin, I packed my entire collection into a suitcase and brought them back to London with me, their presence in my flat symbolising the fact that I had settled, that where I was – now that The Three Investigators were there with me – was finally home.

3 InvestigatorsThe investigators are lead by Jupiter Jones, a chubby, smart mouthed intelligent kid, who is a former child actor named “Baby Fatso” (although he hates it when people mention this). Jupiter is a prolific reader, often rubs his peers up the wrong way and is driven by his own morality and belief in the power of logic and creative thinking (So: not much psychology required there to figure out why I fell for this series).

Jupiter was joined by Pete Crenshaw, the athletic leg of the trio, more likely to be the one who tackled the escaping criminal to the ground, though Pete was never drawn as being pure brawn without brains; he was as capable of challenging assumptions and of suggesting possible motives or viewpoints as the lead investigator.

Bob Andrews made up the trio. The researcher, who – in pre-Google days – would scour newspaper morgues, school libraries, and interview witnesses face to face, produced, often, the killer clue that Jupiter and Pete would then extrapolate into a solution to the mystery. Bob did all of this, in the early books, while wearing a leg brace to heal multiple leg fractures, thus – in late 60s / early 70s fiction – presenting a disabled person as a positive independent and equal contributor to the endeavour, and doing so in a way which never felt shoehorned in.

From Derek's own collection
From Derek’s own collection

In fact, the boys also faced off against menace, threats of racism, fatism, classism and all the other ‘ism’s which, whilst entirely present in much of today’s YA market, were definitely unique at the time.

I can barely imagine any of Enid Blyton’s detective gangs facing down someone trying to swindle a Mexican family out of their ranch purely because of their race, let alone the Secret Seven dealing with obsession or the supernatural (Whispering Mummy), and as a result, for me, these books became an escape. When life was too dull, or too stressful, or when I felt lost or unsure of how / if I would ever fit into the world, Jupe, Pete and Bob would be there, to welcome me home.

The books were written by the various authors in a style that could be described as Pulp-Lite. The story started almost on the first page (if not the first line), the writing was snappy and direct. There were outlandish titles (“The Secret of Skeleton Island,” “The Mystery of The Moaning Cave,” “The Mystery of The Headless Horse” to name a few) designed to pull the readers in, and explanations that – at the end of the book – made absolutely perfect sense in light of what had been planted through the plot up to that point.

Chapters ended, mostly, on cliffhangers, and the danger was real. In “The Magic Circle,” for example, Bob is bashed on the head, knocked unconscious, dumped in the trunk of a car in the middle of a scrap yard in Southern California, and left to die of heat stroke. Beat that, Famous Five.

And the victory – when the villains are finally unmasked and the case resolved – all the sweeter for being logical, just, and a fair response to the threat created earlier in the book.
And now I write books. Mystery books. Books peopled with characters who run the gamut from loveable to quirky to monstrous, and who are all (or mostly) comfortable in their own skins.

Death of a DivaIn Death of a Diva and Death of a Nobody, Danny Bird – my detective – is an average Joe, who just at the point when he thinks he’s lost everything, finds a new purpose in life. He’s accompanied by his best friend, a ridiculously glamorous yet heartwarmingly fallible gorgeous blonde, and surrounded by family – made as well as birth – who bicker, bitch, backbite and yet – when the chips are down – are there for each other.

All ideas that – now I think about it – were instilled in me by The Three Investigators, by a series of books that didn’t talk down to their audience, but which made the assumption that their audience were smart, generous, and along for the ride.

I owe Robert Arthur and MV Carey particularly a great debt, and one I hadn’t fully realised until recently.

The books have been somewhat bogged down in legal wrangles in recent years, but I still firmly believe they have a place in the pantheon next to other more recognised series’ and can’t imagine my life – as a kid, as an adult, or as a writer of crime fiction that entertains and celebrates life in all it’s difference – without The Three Investigators.

 

Death of a Diva (Hyperurl.co/Diva) Derek Farrell
Death of a Nobody (Hyperurl.co/Nobody)
Publisher: Fahrenheit Press (@fahrenheitpress on Twitter).
My website is derekfarrell.co.uk
Twitter: @derekifarrell

 

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July 19

In Conversation: Douglas Skelton & Theresa Talbot

Every once in a while my job lands me in an office where I can actually get to attend some book events of an evening.  Lately I have found myself lurking on the fringes of Glasgow launch events and, if you go to a launch event in Glasgow, there is a pretty good chance of bumping into Douglas Skelton or Theresa Talbot (though God forbid you get them both at the same time).

I know that not everybody can make it along to book launches (and even fewer get to the Scottish ones) so it is entirely possible you may not have had the chance to meet Douglas or Theresa in person.  It is an experience like no other. In a good way obviously!

So with slight apprehension as to what I may unleash I invited them to join me for a chat – and there was only one place I could start…

 

DOUGLAS SKELTONG – Mr Skelton, I cannot help but notice you have been nominated onto the longlist for the McIlvanney prize at this year’s Bloody Scotland festival.  Congratulations!  How does it feel now that you have had a day or two to let the news sink in?  And I am also keen to know how you found out?

DS – Oh, you noticed that, did you? I haven’t really talked about it much (coughs and has the decency to look ashamed).

The simple truth about it is that I am hyper chuffed by the nod and I think that’s a feeling that will remain for quite some time. I mean – look at the names on that list. Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, James Oswald, Stuart McBride, Doug Johnstone, Lin Anderson, Lesley Kelly, ES Thomson, Chris Brookmyre! The words “bloody” and”hell” spring to mind. 

I found out a couple of days before through Luath Press. I was sworn to absolute secrecy, on pain of beng tied to a chair and force fed a diet of reality TV. Naturally, I kept my lips buttoned, zipped and sewn.

TT – Douglas – are you really on the longlist?? OMG, you never mentioned it! (Listen whilst that Skelton chap’s away polishing his halo, can I say he’s never stopped talking about it! )

Seriously….well done, you deserve to be up there with the best of them.

DS – (Blushes)

TT – Oh behave! Has anything changed since the longlist was announced? D’you feel any different…like a proper famous author now? 

DS – Well, no. As I’ve said, I was the only name I had to Google when I saw the list. It’s a great thing – and I am honoured and grateful – but I don’t want to run away with myself. I certainly do hope it will open up new avenues (new worlds, new civilisations…) and yes, I feel a positive change in certain perceptions but in reality, I’ve got another book to write and I’m stuck in the mid-story doldrums. As usual.

2015-10-11 00.55.32TT – You asked me to Google you once and I thought you were being smutty! I’m sure being nominated for this award will be such a positive thing for you.

How d’you get out of this mid-story doldrums you’re in…I’m at the end of my tether with my next one at the moment. I’m almost finished..BUT…It’s as though I have a big bag of Christmas lights which need untangled and the turkey’s already burning in the oven. Does that even make sense??

DS – I WAS being smutty. Was very disappointed when you didn’t. But then I should be used to such disappointment by now.

As for the Christmas lights/Turkey analogy – makes perfect sense. The only way out of it is to write through it. You know what you’re doing isn’t anywhere near right but getting to the end of that first draft is the primary aim. Rewrites can be done. New passages can be added. Bad ones can be cut. Everything can be fixed.

And if I ask another young lady to Google me, so might I.

G – Turkey and Christmas Lights in July! I knew I should have checked my emails more closely today….

Theresa – tell me about Bloody Scotland, I opened the brochure and you were the first familiar face I spotted.

DS – Me, too!

Helluva fright.

TT – Bloody Scotland…I’m thrilled – nae thrice thrilled to be part of the festival this year. When I was asked to take part I have to admit to looking behind me to see who the organiser was talking to! I’m part of a panel of new crime writers made up of Abir Mukherjee, Brooke Magnanti, Martin Cathcart Froden and Me…with the lovely Alex Gray chairing. We’ll be at the Golden Lion Wallace on Saturday 10th September at 2pm…tickets still available! (Which you can book by clicking HERE).

Bloody Scotland is still a relatively new literary festival yet is up there with the big boys. It’s such an exciting, vibrant event to be part of. I went last year as a punter – I also  attended a crime writing masterclass and now I’m back this year as a Baby-Crime-Writer in Training! Fantastic. 

Bloody ScotlandDS – It is a fabulous event and Scotland should be proud of it. I think this is my fourth year up there and it’s always immense fun. 

G – Bloody Scotland has been the highlight of all the bookish events I have made it to thus far, this year will be my third – I may even pluck up the courage to actually TALK to some authors.

So festivals aside, am I allowed to ask what you are both working on at present?  Theresa seems to be a full time wedding guest and Douglas is forever on tour!!!

DS – I’m working on another Dominic Queste book, Tag – You’re Dead. The first, The Dead Don’t Boogie, is due out in paperback in September, although currently available on Kindle.

The Dead Don't BoogieAnd yes, I have been on tour with the Crime Factor boy band of Neil Broadfoot, Gordon ‘G.J.’ Brown, Mark Leggatt and chair Peter Burnett.

TT – At the moment I’m working my way through a box of Terry’s All Gold. 

As soon as news got out that I had not one but TWO decent dresses I was in big demand for all sorts of social occasions, but I seem to have found my niche at weddings. I turn up on time, tell the bride how beautiful she is and basically I know how to work a room. I pass the dresses of as classic vintage, but the truth is they’re just really really old. Thankfully as a writer I don’t make much money so my meager diet ensures even my oldest clothes still fit me. 

Other than that I’m slogging away (between bouts of Facebook) on Resurrection, which is a sort of follow up to Penance. I often call Douglas for advice as I suffer from writer’s block…he’s very good that way and listens to my tales of woe as he settles back on his wing-backed leather arm-chair sipping his 20 year old malt that his butler has just poured. I know almost all of his staff by name now and they’re organising food parcels for me. I’m blessed to have Douglas as a mentor – however he drew the line at me joining his Boy Band! 

DS – I can vouch for the fact that Theresa can work the room. I have witnessed this first hand.

As for knowing my staff by name, pish tosh. There are so many of them here at Skelton Manor than even I don’t know them! 

Theresa was invited to join the boy band but she failed the medical. 

TT – I’ve taken something for that condition and would now like to re-apply for the boy-band! 

G – Okay, dangerous territory here so am nipping this in the bud.  However, just to prove you don’t always wind each other up how about I ask Theresa to say something nice about Douglas (or his books if that’s easier)? And Douglas you have to do the same for Theresa.

Neither of you have to be nice to me, I work for the Banks – my social standing is ruined.

PenanceTT – Say something nice about Douglas? Seriously…oh go on then…seriously…Douglas has helped me more than he’ll ever know in my quest to be a crime writer. He’s always there to offer sound advice and keep me calm. He’s been so encouraging and he’s just a thoroughly lovely all round nice guy. Honest to God! 

His books are bloody good too..but don’t take my word for it, check out the Davie McCall series and The Dead Don’t Boogie. BTW Douglas doesn’t boogie either, but I’m working on that! 

DS – So, Theresa. Or maybe Gordon, I don’t know now. No, Theresa. I’ve only known her for a relatively short period of time but already feel as if I’ve known her all my life. I loved her book, Penance, and am looking forward to her new one immensely. Her new one isn’t called Immensely, by the way. She is also a bundle of energy and has an enthusiasm that is infectious. 

And if anyone can make me boogie, it’s her. 

G – I know how hard that last bit was for you both so I would just like to offer my most sincere thanks – this is why I love attending events with you two, it is always such great fun.

 

Douglas Skelton has published 11 books on true crime and history. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, shelf stacker, meat porter, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), reporter, investigator and editor. His first thriller BLOOD CITY was published by Luath Press in 2013. The gritty thriller was the first in a quartet set on the tough streets of Glasgow from 1980 onwards. It was followed by CROW BAIT, DEVIL’S KNOCK and finally OPEN WOUNDS, which has been longlisted for the first McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year.

You can find Douglas’s books on the following link:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B001K7TR10/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Douglas+Skelton&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Douglas+Skelton&sort=relevancerank

 

Theresa Talbot is a freelance writer, journalist and radio presenter, perhaps best known as the voice of Traffic and Travel on BBC Radio Scotland and as the host of The Beechgrove Potting Shed. Prior to working with the BBC she was with Radio Clyde and the AA Roadwatch team. Theresa worked in various roles before entering the media as an assistant in children’s homes, a Pepsi Challenge girl and a library assistant. She ended up at the BBC because of an eavesdropped conversation on a no.66 bus in Glasgow. Her passions include rescuing chickens, gardening, music and yoga.

Theresa’s books can be found here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00NOJIRWM/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Theresa+Talbot&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Theresa+Talbot&sort=relevancerank

 

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July 15

Guest Post – Gina Wohlsdorf: Serial Killers

Last month I raved in my review of the fabulous “slasher movie” book Security by Gina Wohlsdorf.  You can read my review here.

I have often discussed my love of a “good” serial killer thriller and ask guests to discuss why we crime readers like books featuring serial killers.  Today I am delighted to welcome Gina Wohlsdorf to Grab This Book – Gina, on hearing about my fascination with these stories, kindly sent this fascinating post for me to share.

 

Gina WohlsdorfBy Gina Wohlsdorf, author of Security (Algonquin, £17.99)

On July 3, 1954, Dr. Sam Sheppard and his wife, Marilyn, hosted a neighbor couple for a late movie at their home in Bay Village, Ohio. Sam fell asleep in the living room, so Marilyn escorted their guests out and bid them good night.

Sam’s story goes like this: he woke in the early hours of July 4. Noises were coming from upstairs. He looked around and found himself still in the living room; Marilyn must have left him there to sleep. He went upstairs and saw a shadow standing over his wife. He fought the assailant, received a fearsome blow on the back of his head, and blacked out. When he came to, he took Marilyn’s pulse and discovered she was dead, then checked on their son in the next room. The boy was unhurt, sound asleep. Sheppard heard a noise downstairs and went to investigate. He saw his wife’s attacker near the back door. Sheppard chased him outside, down to the lakeshore, fought the man again, and was knocked unconscious. Again.

Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of his wife’s murder later that same year. Many called it then, and many call it now, a gross miscarriage of justice.

And yes, the police investigation was sloppier than a first-grader’s doodles. And yes, the trial was a carnival with a preening prosecutor who’d make his name and win elected office on his brutal, biased, media-decided case. And yes, F. Lee Bailey would get the conviction rightly overturned twelve years later by no lesser authority than the United States Supreme Court.

Most interestingly, Sam’s surviving son — in a lifelong crusade to exonerate his father — would turn history’s attention to hired man Richard Eberling, who did a few chores around the house for Marilyn Sheppard. Thirty-five years after Marilyn Sheppard’s death by bludgeoning, Eberling would be convicted of killing an elderly woman. By bludgeoning. The specifics of the two modi operandi are virtually identical.

Except there’s a problem: Sheppard’s version of events still sounds ridiculous. It neatly splits, with an almost mathematical precision, the thinking person’s dual reactions of: 1) that story is so bad he must be lying, and 2) that story is so bad he can’t be lying.

True crime devotees often balk first at the idea Sheppard’s wife let him snooze the night away downstairs, but I can let that go. Married people develop odd hinterlands of permissible behavior. Plus, he’s a doctor. He gets called away a lot, Marilyn is used to sleeping alone. Fine.

The next place people get hung up is on that initial fight — if he sees an intruder hurting his wife, why wouldn’t he run, call the cops? Again, I have no issue here. I think plenty of husbands would throw down if confronted with this situation. The killer’s blood is up, he’s already inflicting blows, so Sheppard taking a knock to the head and blacking out, I buy it.

So far, so good. Here’s where the story goes bad.

Go on a journey with me. The horror thus far recounted has happened to you. You awaken dizzy, in pain, off-balance. You check your wife’s pulse and can’t find one. You bolt for your sleeping son, and you find he’s okay. You hear a noise downstairs. What do you do next?

Let me reiterate: your wife is dead, your son is fine, and you are hurt. A murderer is downstairs.

It flies in the face of everything I know about human instinct to posit for one bald second that anyone would race down and try to nab the bastard. Evolutionary priority is to protect the offspring, and especially if you’re injured (which Sheppard was, badly — he had mild trauma to his cervical spine), you keep quiet and listen for the killer to leave.

But Sheppard’s disoriented, right? He’s out of it, so he chases this guy, gets knocked out again, awakens with his legs in Lake Erie.

We go from there, to a public outcry, to a slipshod trial, to a verdict overturned by the highest court in the land. DNA testing decades after the crime (and decades after Sheppard died of liver failure, having turned to the bottle to assuage either his crippling guilt or his life’s lottery-winning bad luck) successfully linked Eberling to Marilyn Sheppard’s brutal murder, because she died biting a nice big chunk out of the handyman’s hand.

And yet. The dog didn’t bark. There were no signs of forced entry. The defense’s motive for the murder (escalated burglary) doesn’t dovetail very nicely with the meager handful of stolen items recovered from shrubs on the Sheppard property.

What makes the most sense to me, purely on the basis of available circumstantial and forensic evidence, is that Sheppard hired Eberling to kill his wife. Sam had been having an affair with a nurse for years. Testimony from friends suggested Marilyn was sick of it. Spouses have been murdered for less.

Only, if you hire someone to kill your wife, and you leave the door unlocked, and you find a way to shut the dog up, and you tell your hitman not to touch your kid . . . then your next step is to swear up and down to the cops that you chased him (twice!), got knocked out (twice!), it must have been a burglary gone bad, Officer (and you throw a few trinkets by a bush when there’s a lake a few feet away!) — that’s your master plan?

His story’s too unlikely to be false or true.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us, in the context of Marilyn Sheppard’s murder, in a perfect middle ground between incredulities. But it does offer us an excellent explanation as to why people enjoy reading fiction about killers.

People enjoy reading fiction about killers because killers in fiction make sense. Art is the imposing of order on chaos. It is taking sounds from their random occurrences in reality and arranging them into music. It is selecting feelings from their chaotic jumble inside us and presenting them in harmonious drama.

It is selecting events from the maelstrom of all that is possible, creating human characters from the infinity of characteristics at our disposal, and organizing them in narrative form in such a way that the terrifying high-wire act of our ostensibly ordinary days seems slightly more manageable.

Whether Sam Sheppard had something to do with his wife’s murder or not, his story is scarcely endurable. Imagine, either way. It’s over sixty years after the fact, and I still can’t decide if the man was a murderer.

Even murderers who we know did it don’t make sense. Berkowitz is this pathetic, dumb doughnut of a human being, yet he held New York hostage for months. Bundy murdered over thirty young women, quite likely triple that, yet he was smart, attractive, charismatic — why’d he need to kill?

And Dahmer: I mean, what the hell happened there?

A writer, if they made Dahmer up, could tell you. But it’s the fact that writers can tell you that makes what they tell you inaccurate. They don’t know. I don’t know.

When a real-life killer does try to tell you, he can’t, or he can’t/won’t. Berkowitz blamed a dog. Bundy spoke in bland hypotheticals, determined to the end not to self-incriminate.

Dahmer: for real, what the hell happened there?

securityJack Henry Abbott, brought to you by Norman Mailer, actually did get an opportunity to write a book, but it says little to nothing about the killing impulse. It says a great deal about Marxist politics and uses them tirelessly to show that nothing Abbott ever did was ever his own fault, ever. Perhaps that is the closest we can get to understanding. Perhaps it’s an uncanny capacity for inner elisions that makes impulse control not only impossible, but irrelevant.

For me, to be frank, that’s close enough. The number-one complaint I hear about my debut novel, Security, is that I never explain the Killer’s motives. I don’t fold him comfortably into some larger plot. I don’t even reveal his face. I ask my reader to be content with not knowing, and it’s possible they’re correct in seeing this as a betrayal.

But then I imagine I’m Marilyn Sheppard’s neighbor. She’s telling me good night on her front porch. Her smile is lovely as she offers a quiet apology for her husband, deeply asleep — or deeply faking it — behind her. I tell her no problem, it happens, sleep well.

I hear the grind of gravel under my practical ‘50s pumps, hear the Sheppards’ door closing behind me. The night is summer-warm, summer-quiet. Crickets chatter in the green, lush lawns of boring ol’ suburban Ohio. I’m tired, thinking of bed. Thinking of tomorrow, a to-do list forming. I take my husband’s arm for balance, for warmth, and I don’t think to relish — why would I? — the last night I’ll travel to dreams on the soft, delicate lie of certainty.

 

Security is out now in Hardback and Audio CD

 

Gina Wohlsdorf was born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota. An insomniac in childhood, she crouched over her pink desk in the wee hours and wrote illustrated storybooks that no one but she could follow. Her father, a high school English teacher, began bringing Gina the novels he was teaching and giving her quizzes on the material to demonstrate to his students that an eleven-year-old girl could ace the tests they were failing. Once she got to high school, she attempted to write a novel and discovered, to her embarrassment, that she was still the only person who could follow it. She triple majored at Tulane University. Following graduation, she lived in northern Florida, southern France, and Minnesota. She held a variety of jobs that afforded her time to write, including bookseller and massage therapist. She found, after two decades of trying, that her novels had begun to make sense. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. She currently lives in Colorado.

 

 

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July 12

When The Music’s Over – Peter Robinson

Before I get to my review of the 23rd DCI Banks novel, When The Music’s Over, I am thrilled to be able to share a short Q&A with Peter Robinson. I wanted to get a sense of the history of Alan Banks, it’s been a few years since I first picked up book 1 (Gallows View).

From Gallows View to When the Music’s Over

When the Music’s Over is the 23rd Banks Novel how do you feel looking back over the Banks Legacy?

It’s hard to believe there are 23, but I feel pretty good about it. Looking back at Gallows View and then at my more recent titles, I think both Banks and I have come a long way, and it has been interesting journey. I hope it continues that way.

What changes have you noticed through the years, how does publishing book 23 compare to that first publication day?

Too many changes to list. When I started out in 1987, I remained relatively unknown for many years, and then I became known a bit more but was mostly neglected for a few more years. It was only In a Dry Season, my 10th Banks novel, that brought me to wider attention, and things have got even better since then. As for Banks, he has aged well, been through divorce, children leaving home, the death of his brother, and he now lives a more isolated life and is perhaps more philosophical and melancholy than he was when he was younger. He still enjoys wine, women and song, though!

How does the passage of time in the books compare to the real world?

It’s complicated. Basically, time passes more slowly in the fictional world. Although I publish a book a year, more or less, the cases Banks investigates are never a year apart, so less time has passed for him. On the other hand, the contemporary references, such as music and world events, are of the time when I’m writing the book, so there’s a sense of anachronism there. I try to get around that by not mentioning dates. So Banks remains younger than me, but inhabits the same time period as me. I told you it was complicated. I try not to worry about it too much.

 

When The Musics OverWHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER

In a remote countryside lane in North Yorkshire, the body of a young girl is found, bruised and beaten, having apparently been thrown from a moving vehicle.

While DI Annie Cabbot investigates the circumstances in which a 14-year-old could possibly fall victim to such a crime, newly promoted Detective Superintendent Alan Banks is faced with a similar task – but the case Banks must investigate is as cold as they come.

Fifty years ago Linda Palmer was attacked by celebrity entertainer Danny Caxton, yet no investigation ever took place. Now Caxton stands accused at the centre of a historical abuse investigation and it’s Banks’s first task as superintendent to find out the truth.

While Annie struggles with a controversial case threatening to cause uproar in the local community, Banks must piece together decades-old evidence, and as each steps closer to uncovering the truth, they’ll unearth secrets much darker than they ever could have guessed . . .

 

A huge thank you to Kerry at Hodder for my review copy of When The Music’s Over

I have been reading Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks books for more years than I initially realised.  I remember meeting Mr Robinson at a signing event in Glasgow.  It was hosted in Ottakers bookshop and I got my talking book signed (on cassette). Gosh things have changed.

What has not changed, however, is the enjoyment I get when I return to Yorkshire with Banks and Annie Cabbot. I have loved following how the characters have evolved, the stories they get caught up in and the hours of reading pleasure that Peter Robinson has given me. In fact, Aftermath remains one of the best police procedurals I have read.

When The Music’s Over is the 23rd book in the series and takes on one of the more uncomfortable topics to read about.  Banks is asked to investigate a (very) cold case – an allegation of sexual offences made by a national tv celebrity many years ago.  Although the accused is now in his advanced years he still maintains a degree of celeb status and Banks is under no illusion that pursing an investigation so many years after the incident will be a challenge.

Sadly recent years have shown that investigations of this nature are all too real. It was actually quite fascinating seeing the investigation unfold as I have never given too much consideration towards how crimes of this nature could be investigated.

The scenes where Banks conducts his interviews of the victim and also the alleged perpetrator were quite unsettling at times. They were well handled by the author and I felt my anger rise as events (fictional but all too believable) were laid bare for Banks to consider.

Elsewhere Annie Cabbot is investigating the murder of a young girl. Her body has been found on a remote road, seemingly beaten and thrown from a moving vehicle.  Annie has to identify the victim with virtually no clues to work with. However, as her investigations proceed we find that Annie risks stirring up deep rooted tensions within the local community – diplomacy skills may not be sufficient to quell an angry mob if Annie doesn’t tread carefully.

I was delighted how quickly I fell back into step with Banks and his team. The familiarity of the characters and the story telling skill of Peter Robinson made this an enjoyable read. It is always a disappointment when the book is finished and I know there will be another 12 months before the next.

When The Music’s Over is one of the more memorable DCI Banks stories and one which fans will surely love.

 

When The Music’s Over is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 14 July 2016 – you can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Musics-Over-Banks-Mystery/dp/1444786717/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468277880&sr=1-1&keywords=when+the+music%27s+over

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July 1

Karl Drinkwater Q&A – They Move Below

They Move BelowI am delighted to welcome Karl Drinkwater to Grab This Book as I have the honour to kick off the They Move Below blog tour. My review of They Move Below follows this post but before you scroll down, Karl has kindly taken time to answer a few of my questions.

 

Were you always most likely to write horror stories or are there other genres you enjoy?

I was always a horror fiend, and had no intention of writing anything else. “Darkness or nothing,” I would mutter. But then I did English Literature at A level and university, and was forced to read other books. I recently wrote about how that changed my attitude to Shakespeare; the same happened with Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens and so on. At one point I studied Byron and the cult surrounding him for a full year. I learnt to appreciate other modes of expression, and thus began my strange writing career where I alternate between horror and literary/contemporary fiction.

When we talk horror stories the name that most people jump to is Stephen King. Are we overlooking other great horror writers?

Absolutely. I love and respect King’s work, but the danger in any genre is that some authors are so successful and shine so brightly that it is hard to make out the struggling waifs in the shadows. There are so many great writers in every genre. When I came across The Descent by Jeff Long I was amazed – it had one of the best-written and tense (yet understated) openings of any book I’d read, which was then backed up by an imaginative plot that kept growing in scope. My own Claws Truth Forebear was probably inspired by it subconsciously.

Should a horror tale ever have a happy ending?

Yes. A horror tale only implies you have to experience horror and fear, but doesn’t define whether that is at the start, mid-point, end, or any combination of those. In fact, it’s a common pattern to front-load the horror but resolve things and restore order (for writers in the “horror is a conservative genre” school). Let’s take Stephen King’s The Shining. People seem to remember the ending of the film more: coldness, Dick Hallorann being axed, endless evil. But in the novel Dick Hallorann survives, and the novel ends in the sunshine with Wendy, Danny and Dick on a kind of holiday by a lake. Their strength is rewarded with life.

Harvest FestivalWhat do you feel makes a good horror story?

You need to feel fear. It’s almost physical – a shudder, the hairs on your neck raising, faster breathing. That comes from being able to imagine yourself in the position of a character. It is a team effort between the reader (suspending belief) and the writer (creating the convincing narrative). Horror is very different from the baser effects such as revulsion.

I tend not to read many short stories and I find that when I do I turn most often to collections of ghost stories. Do you think “scary” stories are more effective as a short story (perhaps shades of campfire tales)?

I remember loving ghost story collections: I think I read everything by Algernon Blackwood, possibly by M.R. James too. Often short stories do work better. With limited words we are unlikely to have everything explained, so you finish it and look around nervously, your subconscious tricked into believing it has experienced a slice of reality. With a novel, where things are usually tidily-wrapped up, the sense of closure can often weaken the feeling of horror. “That’s all over then, well done Guvnor, another case closed.” If horror is about uncertainty, then closure is an end to horror.

Which horror tales do you rate most highly?  Are there favourites you revisit?

Here are a few!

  • Lot (Ward Moore, 1953). End-of-the-world panic. It’s as unsettling as you’d expect.
  • Children Of The Corn (Stephen King, 1978, in Night Shift). A gripping horror that captures a sense of place brilliantly (and happens to be one of the many inspirations for Turner).
  • To Build A Fire (Jack London, 1908). I read it as a child and decided I would rather freeze to death than burn.
  • Weekend (Fay Weldon, 1978). I count this as horror, even though I may be the only person to do so. [Can’t find a good link about it.]
  • More Tomorrow (Michael Marshall Smith, 1995). Internet horror. You put this one down with a mix of relief and horror.
  • Splatter Of Black (Charles A. Gramlich, 1995). A great example of how to write an action-packed tale.

Have you ever experienced a supernatural phenomenon?

I’ve never been asked this before, but … yes. Even though I’m a rational person, there are things I’ve experienced which I would count as supernatural. All were in my childhood and teenage years, when strange events seemed to follow us from house to house. We moved home a lot. My family was made up of me, my mother, my sister (Sarah); my father died when I was young. If there was a single event it might be easier to block it out, but this was a sustained sequence of events that can’t be easily explained. Hauntings? A poltergeist that followed us? The element that stands out was that this wasn’t just creepy things in the night (though there were those) experienced by the same three people; many things occurred in broad daylight, when other people were present. People who didn’t believe in the supernatural, but who were so shaken afterwards that their views had changed. My best friend of the time (I was 14 or 15) was with me during one of them, and his opinion that I was being over-imaginative totally reversed one night when something happened that left him visibly pale, afraid to cross a room, and admitting that he believed us totally; I don’t think he was helped by my calm statement that it wasn’t out of the ordinary and we should just go back to my computer and that we’d be okay as long as we didn’t go near the dark end of the kitchen. My first girlfriend a year or so later was a creature of awe to me; I couldn’t believe this beautiful and tough woman had somehow fallen for a nerd like myself; but when she told me what she’d heard downstairs in the night, and that she couldn’t wake me up, and she also now believed in the things she’d scoffed at before, I realised that it wasn’t just my imagination. Some time ago I met up with her after many years of being out of touch, and she mentioned again, unprompted, how scared she’d been. It was still with her over 25 years later.

TurnerOkay, I’ve skirted round any details. It’s too big a topic. I could fill a book with it, and no-one would believe half the stuff we came to take for granted. I’m going to tell you about one thing, quite minor in many ways, but I’ve never written about this before.

I was about 15. We lived in a council house on Barton Road in Stretford, Manchester. There was only me and Mum and the dogs in the house. It was a grey day, had been drizzling earlier, but wasn’t particularly creepy: just Manchester. I was watching TV in the living room downstairs. Mum was hoovering upstairs, the drone of the subdued vacuum cleaner somehow comforting. We had two dogs back then, Toby and Tiny, Yorkshire Terriers. They wanted to go on the back garden so I opened the French door and let them out. I could see them through the glass trotting round and sniffing and taking it in turns to wee on the same spots. I usually left them out for a quarter of an hour, or until one of them came back to the door. I lay on the floor in front of the TV again. I heard a noise upstairs, like furniture being moved. All so normal. The hoover stopped. Footsteps coming down the stairs. Measured and slow. Nothing to make me look up.

“Karl,” said my Mum from the doorway. “Where are the dogs?”

“Outside. I just let them out.” I could see them near the bushes.

“Will you come upstairs with me for a minute?”

“Sure. Why?”

I was now following her up the stairs.

“There was a noise under my bed. I just want someone with me when I look.”

I nearly laughed. A noise! In daytime!

“No problem.”

We went into Mum’s bedroom. The vacuum cleaner was still plugged in but off. We stepped over the cable. The bed was on low legs, so there was a dark shadowed area underneath that you couldn’t see into while stood up. I wasn’t in the least bit perturbed. We both started to kneel. Then there was a growl from under the bed. A deep, rumbling, throaty growl like nothing I’ve heard before.

To my shame I didn’t stay with my mum. I pegged it out of there and pretty much flew down the stairs and out the front door, stood by the main road and ready to run even further, leaving my mum to follow calmly. “What’s the point of running?” she asked me later. It was half an hour before I went back in the house.

Mum let the dogs back in. Both of them.

I wouldn’t go in her room for a long time.

If you wanted to be rational, you could maybe argue that the floorboards there creaked in some way. They never creaked like that at any other point in the years we lived there, even when you knelt on that same spot. But it could be an explanation, even if my gut tells me it’s wrong.

After writing that I have just dug out my old diaries. It took me nearly two hours to track down a mention of the event – but I was pleased to find it, because so many things in my diary of the time seem to be just about boardgames, role playing games, computer games, money, and school, and the weird events rarely got a mention. I cringe a bit to read them, but here’s the entry. (Actually, I cringe a lot to type it up, but it also makes it seem more real to see it in a record that’s been closed for about 28 years!) My memories actually differ from the entry, but the gist is the same; there were some surrounding details in the diary entry I’d totally forgotten.

Monday 14th March 1988

I write this with beating heart. Last night Sarah woke up screaming, Mum and Eddy heard noises, smelt burning and sensed something and when I got home today I heard a noise. Mum asked if it was me. We went upstairs to make Mum’s bed and she bent down to look under it. We then heard a horrible growl and ran for fuck. I feel a bit like crying – there have been noises all night. Sarah is in my room tonight and some medium people have contacted us.

Tuesday 15th March 1988

Nothing too bad has happened so far tonight except for knockings outside. Last night I only got 3 ½ hours sleep. I was well scared. On a lighter note, I completed Monty On The Run. A gas mask & rope help.

[Then some normal entries, then this.]

Friday 18th March 1988

Paul likes BMX Simulator as much as me – it is ace. The vicar came round with his friend and daughter. I felt strange after a while and could not help breathing deeply and quickly. I started shaking and crying – I don’t know why. It was really bad. I hated it.

By the way, just in case you suspect I’m making this up – I have attached a photo of the diary entry I took just now. It’s like unearthing the past!

 

1988 diary

 

My most sincere thanks to Karl. I can honestly say that no question I have asked in a Q&A has ever returned such a surprising reply and nobody has ever shared their diary either!

You can find and order all of Karl’s books by clicking through this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Karl-Drinkwater/e/B006JZWOPE/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1467407789&sr=1-2-ent

 

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June 30

In Conversation: Ava Marsh & Marnie Riches

It has been a couple of months since I last had the opportunity to share a chat between two authors, so it is with no small amount of pleasure that I welcome Ava Marsh and Marnie Riches to Grab This Book.

Marnie has a series of writing credits to her name but most recently has written the fantastic George McKenzie novels (The Girl Who trilogy). Returning readers will know I am a bit of fan of Marnie’s books (a slight understatement) and I am always thrilled when I can persuade her to share a little of her precious time to chat with me.

Last year Ava’s debut novel, Untouchable, topped my reads of the year.  I loved how she wove a thrilling story around the world of high class escorts and managed to make the story the star without sensationalising the work that characters chose to do.

Both Marnie and Ava take a no frills approach to writing about potentially taboo areas and they also have complex lead characters who operate in challenging working environments – I wanted to know more:

 

ExposureG: Ava – In Untouchable you wrote about prostitution and now Exposure is set around the porn industry – two areas which many readers may consider taboo subjects. Are you challenging that concept of taboo or are these simply areas which are (mainly) overlooked but offer so much potential as a backdrop for a thriller?

AM: Fair to say it’s both, Gordon. Yes, I thought those areas were rather under-exploited in terms of backdrops for a thriller, but I’m also interested in how society regards people working in the sex trade, particularly women, who tend to be marginalised, ignored, and barely considered ‘normal’ human beings. I’ve known several high class escorts, and they were very intelligent, university-educated women who enjoyed what they did – and not just the money.

So I wanted to break down some of the taboos, and show what might lead quite ordinary people to sell sex for money. I dislike the way we tend to lump all women working in the sex trade as ‘prostitutes’ or ‘porn stars’ and regard them at best as exploited, at worst as ‘dirty’ or immoral. While many prostitutes are exploited, it doesn’t hold true for all, and I’d argue that none are dirty or immoral. You can be a good person working as an escort or porn star, or you can be a very bad person working in politics or business, or some other ‘respectable’ profession. Yes, I’m looking at you, Boris.

G: Marnie, you have Amsterdam as a key setting in your George McKenzie novels. I’ve never visited the city but one of the first things it brings to mind (after canals, windmills and tulips) is the Red Light District.  

I know that it has featured in your books but not to the sensational OTT extent that so often gets used when an author is trying to put their hero somewhere ‘unconventional’. Is it just another part of the city that’s actually been over-hyped by those that don’t live there? How do the Amsterdam residents view that side of their city?  

MR: Ava, obviously much of my series is set in the red light district for the same reasons as you’ve outlined. I was interested to explore the motives of those women who had chosen to work in the sex trade, like George’s housemates, Inneke and Katja. In The Girl Who Broke the Rules, much of the action is also set in a Soho strip club. Predominantly, women have opted to work in these places because they offer good pay and flexible working hours. I believe there are girls working in strip clubs throughout Europe who are funding university education. But there are also plenty of trafficked women coming from all over the world, who have had their passports taken from them by unscrupulous trafficking rings. That promise of a better future and guaranteed paid work in Britain has often turned out to be slave labour in a backstreet brothel or nail bar. For me, the sex industry throws up all sorts of different stories and is an obvious starting point for a crime-thriller. What other motivations do criminals have beyond money, power and sex? Not many. 

Marnie 2When I lived in the Netherlands, I found it a very different country once I got outside of Amsterdam. While Amsterdam was laid back and had a genuinely liberal feel to it, in the neighbouring satellite towns, the attitude of the locals was fairly conservative and judgmental. It is, after all, a Calvinist country with a small population – even Amsterdam has less than a million inhabitants – so, seen through my jaded, big-city British eyes, there is an old-fashioned primness that underpins Dutch society. I think there are many citizens who are opposed to prostitution and legalised drugs. In fact, there are posters in shops and cafes around the country that say “No drugs here, please”. It’s a far more conservative country than people realise, as is Belgium, with plenty of racial tension that can produce fertile ground in which religious extremism can flourish. Obviously, for someone interested in writing about race issues, corruption and hypocrisy as much as describing historic, beautiful settings, Amsterdam offered itself as a perfect location for a thriller. I guess Amsterdamers have grown used to the Red Light District. It is, after all, a healthy part of the city’s tourist industry. 

G: Marnie, I had no idea that any element of Dutch society was prim – the media based perception I have is clearly totally different. 

Intolerances are very topical at the moment, in light of Brexit and it seems everyone has declared an Open Season on voicing discord and unpleasant viewpoints. As for Trump… 

Do you each feel that you have a responsibility when you write to challenge or even undermine intolerant voices or opinions? 

Ava Marsh SilhouetteAM: Yes, fascinating insight into Dutch society, Marnie, and I felt that came across well in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. To answer your question, Gordon, I am indeed deeply interested in reflecting political and cultural concerns in my books. In Untouchable I wanted to tackle issues of inequality and corruption, for instance, while in Exposure, I was more concerned with sexual politics and the misogyny inherent in the porn industry.

I guess one of the main ways we do this as writers is to create characters who embody attitudes, morals or values we dislike or want to oppose, then show how those characteristics play out within the plot and how other characters respond to them. So in Untouchable, Harry represents a wealthy elite that believes itself to be, well, untouchable. In Exposure, Victor embodies a certain kind of man who works in the porn industry – in fact he was directly drawn from a real-life character who makes very violent and sadistic porn movies under a pseudonym. To this day no one is entirely sure who he is.

G: It is actually really disturbing to learn Victor is based upon a real character, when he pops up in Exposure I actually started to feel anxious about what was about to happen (even his presence was chilling). 

Ava, would you say there was an acceptance in both the porn industry and amongst escorts that “that’s just how it is”?  Is the ‘norm’ of that lifestyle so firmly established that even highlighting the worst of conditions will make little practical difference? 

AM: Interesting question, Gordon. I think the situation is much worse in pornography than it is in escorting. Independent escorts commonly define exactly what they will and will not do on their websites, and so have rather good boundaries, in that sense.

Porn girls on the other hand are trying to make a name for themselves in an industry that is predicated on novelty. The problem with sex is that any stimulus often repeated soon becomes boring, so men quickly tire of seeing the same girls doing the same things, especially given there is no emotional context or ‘story’ to embellish what they’re watching on screen. This creates a constant pressure for something new, something exciting, and that tends to escalate what girls are expected to do. I am not sure if there is any solution, and while I feel escorting at the higher levels is relatively harmless – assuming the woman has gone into it willingly – porn damages all of us in subtle ways. Lots of things many women now do routinely – such as shave off their pubic hair – began in porn flicks. There has also been much written about how porn is shaping young men’s attitudes to sex, and how that impacts on the girls they hook up with; in the same way violence on screen has been shown to desensitise us, pornography does too.

MR: If I could respond belatedly to Gordon’s point about assuming a responsibility to challenge intolerance, I’d say yes, I feel a responsibility – not so much to be didactic in my novels but to portray both extremes and the stuff in-between fairly. Two big issues in my George McKenzie series are sexual and racial politics. So, I portray sexist men – at the lesser end of the scale, men like Vim Fennemans, who intimidate and prey on vulnerable young, female students, and at the extreme end of the scale, men like The Duke and the Italian traffickers in The Girl Who Broke the Rules who see women and girls as sexual commodities only – in all their rather unpleasant true colours. I then portray the likes of George McKenzie, my heroine, as a woman’s woman, who eschews things like shaved pubes and body fascism and traditional notions of femininity. Van den Bergen, of course, makes a good stab at being a male feminist! It’s obvious whose side I’m taking. Similarly, racists in my novels are portrayed in detail with backstories of their own that explain their racism, but it doesn’t mean I side with them. My heroes in the George McKenzie series are, after all, predominantly Black.  

George BooksIn my forthcoming Manchester series, issues of racism, sexism and also criminality are explored in the story (Manchester is a real racial melting pot with people of many ethnicities living together harmoniously, at least superficially). As with the George McKenzie series, I’m interested in the shades of grey, not the black and white. Everyone has a price for which they will be corrupted. Everyone is capable of intense hypocrisy and self-preservation at the expense of others. Everyone is guilty at some point in their lives of manipulating situations to their own advantage through the use of sexuality. It’s always fun to explore those dynamics between characters. In the Manchester series, which are criminal-led stories rather than police procedurals, I try not to judge.    And I agree with Ava that pornography has become damaging in nature. I toyed with the idea of doing a PhD in feminism and violent hardcore porn, in a similar vein to George’s PhD studies. I found the subject too depressing in the end and abandoned ideas of the PhD in favour of working in Soho – but not in a titty bar! In a music publisher’s! 

G: One last question before we wrap up: do you each find it hard to get into the head of your more unpleasant characters?  

AM: It depends on how unpleasant they are! Some are so very bad – Harry, Victor – that it’s simply a question of portraying that. You don’t really need to understand or like them. For someone like Alex in Untouchable, his psychology was more opaque, and I had a lot of fun working out how he ticked, and I have to confess I liked him an awful lot.

It’s Kitty in Exposure, however, who gave me the most grief – it took me a long, long time to work out who she was and what she was doing, and to understand what was behind some of her more ‘challenging’ behaviour. The thing to remember is that even the bad guys think they’re good, or at least justified in what they’re doing, and to some extent they are right: it’s all a matter of perspective.

MR: I particularly enjoyed your character, Stella in your first book, Ava. I thought she was very well drawn. Character is really very important to me in my series, and I have quite a large cast in each book – villains as well as heroes. In fact spectacularly bad baddies are my bread and butter – the story springs from them. I adored writing creepy fetishistic anaesthetist, Silas Holm in The Girl Who Broke the Rules, though I have no personal interest in his niche, murderous pastimes!  

In my new book about Manchester, there are a couple of really wonderful psychopaths: two henchmen for warring sides, one of whom is called Conky McFadden and the other who is called Asaf Smolensky. They’re so different from one another, with Conky having been highly educated (in prison) but with a shady past of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and Asaf Smolensky, aka the Fish Man being an ex-Mossad agent, dishonourably discharged from the Israeli army and suffering from PTSD. And then, there’s the main bastard, Paddy O’Brien, who rules South Manchester. He’s a piece of work! I love to hate him. I find writing these murderous types endlessly entertaining but if I don’t suss their backstories out before I start to spin my yarn, the story won’t work, as all action must come from character.  

There are no purely good goodies in my books though. I’m interested in the shades of grey, resulting in George McKenzie having skeletons in her closet and a huge chip on her shoulder and Van den Bergen being frustrating and unlikeable at times. That’s the way people are! I don’t believe in saccharin goody-two-shoes. Perfectly nice people usually have something more lurking behind a facade. Luckily, I think I have a very good lay-person’s understanding of psychology, so I can generally work out beforehand why my characters are the way they are in my stories to ensure that they’re are believable.  

 

My most sincere thanks to Marnie and Ava. We have challenged taboos, highlighted inequality, corruption and exploitation and talked about their respective bad guys. Despite all these dark topics it has been an absolute thrill for me to have had the opportunity to chat with Ava and Marnie who have both continued to be so wonderfully supportive of this blog.

 

Marnie’s George McKenzie novels can be ordered through this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Marnie-Riches/e/B00WBJZ364/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1467243661&sr=1-2-ent

Ava’s novels are also easily ordered by clicking through this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ava-Marsh/e/B00LY3Z3UO/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1467243734&sr=1-2-ent

Category: From The Bookshelf, Guests | Comments Off on In Conversation: Ava Marsh & Marnie Riches
June 15

Ava Marsh Q&A – Exposure

ExposureI am delighted to welcome Ava Marsh back to Grab This Book.  Last year Ava’s debut novel Untouchable topped my 2015 Top Ten Reads – a dark thriller with a lead character that worked as a high class escort. It pulled no punches and stood out as one of the most memorable books I had read for a long time.

Ava’s new novel Exposure is released today and this time we are being taken behind the scenes of the porn industry following the story of Kitty Sweet.

It is an absolute thrill to have the chance to chat with Ava about Exposure.

 

For those that have not yet read Exposure, what can we expect?

In a nutshell, a blow-by-blow account of how a young porn star ends up in prison for murdering two men.

Tell me about Kitty Sweet – is she entirely imagined or perhaps a composite of a number of people?

Kitty is entirely imagined, though oddly I came across some notes I made years ago for another project and found I’d used the same name before. Unlike Grace from Untouchable, Kitty was a tough character to get to know. I spent many, many hours trying to get into her head, something I had no trouble doing with Grace. Eventually I realised why I was finding it so difficult, but explaining that might spoil the story.

First it was escorts, now porn – are you highlighting the unseen side of some of the less discussed (and possibly controversial) parts of modern society?

Yes. I feel strongly that these aspects of society are often ignored and marginalised, particularly the women who work in them, often dismissed by people as either slags or exploited. As with escorting, I wanted to explore what the porn world would feel like for someone immersed in it. For instance, I read in a lot of memoirs, that there is a big sense of ‘community’ amongst porn workers – similar, I suppose, to the kind of community you get with other marginalised groups who look to each other for understanding and support.

When we spoke about Untouchable you said you had interviewed a number of escorts to discuss their lifestyle.  Have you taken a similar research approach for Exposure?

Sadly I don’t know anyone who’s worked in the porn industry, and I was too shy to approach anyone cold! But there’s plenty who have written about their experiences, and their memoirs were invaluable. It’s also an industry that’s attracted a lot of articles and press coverage, which was useful.

How was the reaction to Untouchable? Were you surprised with any of the reactions you saw or perhaps that there was a fair bit of focus on what became referred to (amongst the bloggers) as “the party scene”?

Untouchable coverI was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to Untouchable. I knew I was pushing the envelope with some of the sex scenes – particularly that scene – but almost universally people have said that none of it felt gratuitous, which pleased me a lot. The sex in both books is there not to titillate, but to provide context and understanding of the world these women inhabit. For them sex is largely work, part of their everyday routine.

Away from writing what does Ava Marsh do with her free time? Can you switch off and get away from the book?

Oh yes, I am very good at not thinking about my work. In the early stages of a book, I can only write for about an hour a day – after that my brain kind of burns out. So I’m left with another 23 to fill. I sleep for eight, spend another ten or so pissing around on the internet, leaving just enough time for three meals, a shower, and a few hours vegging in front of the TV. I am very boring.

Can we ask if there is a new project underway?

I have a couple of things up my sleeve. I’m halfway through a first draft of something a little bit different; still a thriller, but a slight change of direction. And I’ve another book I’m brainstorming in case that one goes nowhere.

Are you a bookworm? If I were to see your bookcases what sort of books could I expect to see?

I have all the books! I’ve got one room devoted to them, which I like to refer to as ‘the library’ (using a posh, country-house sort of voice). I also have a scary number taking up space on my Kindle, and a load more on Audible. I need to conduct a purge, but I hate parting with books. I’m a pretty wide-ranging reader.  I usually have several on the go at the same time – one in hard copy, one on Kindle, and one I’m listening to. I love literary as well as genre fiction, and spent my teen years reading the bulk of the classics. I’m much lazier these days, and tend to read to please rather than educate myself.

 

Exposure is published on 16 June by Corgi and you can order a copy here:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Exposure-Ava-Marsh/dp/0552171212/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466015086&sr=8-1&keywords=Exposure+ava+marsh

Here is the description:

Kitty Sweet isn’t like anyone you’ve ever met before.

She’s an infamous porn star, imprisoned for double murder. As damaged as she is charismatic, as dangerous as she is charming.

But once no different from you or I.

Kitty’s past is full of heartbreak and desperation, of adulation and glamour. Of ruin. She’s descended to an underworld most people can only imagine, and lived to tell the tale . . .

This is her story.

 

 

 

Category: Guests | Comments Off on Ava Marsh Q&A – Exposure
June 12

Book Chains – David Young (1st Link)

Today I am kicking off a new feature which, for reasons I hope will become apparent, I am calling Book Chains.

I love when I have the chance to welcome a guest to Grab This Book and I really enjoy reading (and planning) author Q&A posts.  I decided I wanted to try to have more guests come and visit my blog – but I am never sure who to invite and sometimes asking good questions is tricky.  So I have decided to put my new feature into the hands of my guests.

Book Chains will be a series of author Q&A’s – with a twist.

I am starting my ‘chain’ today and I am joined Stasi Child author David Young.  David kindly agreed to join me for a chat and I drew up a series of questions for him.  My last question to David will be to ask him to nominate who I should approach to interview next.  David was also asked to provide me with one question that I should ask the person he nominated.

My challenge will be to contact the nominated person and ask if they would also be willing to join me for a chat – this will keep my chain going.

With no idea where I will end up, I start with a question for David Young:

Stasi Child 2First, for those that have yet to read Stasi Child, do you want to do a sales pitch?

I hope the book has reasonably broad appeal and it’s had some modest success – reaching the top 20 official paperback chart and being longlisted for two major book awards, the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger. It’s part police procedural, part thriller and part historical novel with two strong female protagonists. One is my main detective character, Oberleutnant Karin Müller, who’s the youngest and only female head of a murder squad in communist East Germany, where the novel is set in the mid-1970s. She’s tasked with investigating the gruesome murder of a teenage girl – found by the Berlin Wall, apparently having attempted to escape into the East, while many others were risking their lives trying to get out. But throughout the book she has to work with – and against – rival factions of the notorious secret police, the Stasi. A second, parallel, narrative features a teenage girl incarcerated in a brutal reform school. Eventually the two stories converge on the slopes of northern Germany’s highest mountain, the legendary Brocken – where witches danced on the summit in Goethe’s Faust.

What should we know about David Young (other than he has written a book that we should all buy)?

My only other claim to fame is having our single played (once) by Steve Lamacq on BBC 6 Music when I was in an indiepop band (first The Candy Twins, and later Tender Objects). I was the singer, songwriter and rhythm guitarist (it was just a side project to distract me from a dull day job) but I gave it up and turned to writing novels when I finally accepted what people had been telling me for years – that I couldn’t sing. If you want a laugh, here’s the official video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHuG06lhwd0

One of my favourite elements of Stasi Child was the setting, both location and the time, why did you choose to write about 1970’s Berlin?

About eight years ago, I managed to blag The Candy Twins a short tour of Germany, mainly on the back of a helpful quote from Edwyn Collins (of Orange Juice and A Girl Like You etc). Most of the venues were in the east – and I was amazed about how much of the DDR was still evident (and it still is, though fast disappearing). I read Anna Funder’s Stasiland during the tour. So when I had to write an exercise on setting for my MA in Creative Writing at City University, I chose East Berlin in the DDR period. And then my tutor, Northern Irish crime writer Claire McGowan, encouraged me to turn it into a novel. I opted for the 1970s simply to give me enough years before the fall of the Wall to write a series!

Will there be a follow-up to Stasi Child?

Yes! Bonnier Zaffre have two more books under contract. Book 2 is due in February 2017. It’s set a few months after Stasi Child, in one of East Germany’s ‘model’ socialist cities – Halle-Neustadt – where there were no street names (actually, four roads did have names) and addresses were just a row of digits. My plan is to write a book per year up to the fall of the Wall, but it depends how well the first three sell (and when I mentioned this idea to my publishers they looked aghast!)

Through the wonders of technology I was able to see you chatting with some of my blogger friends at Crimefest. Was that a fun weekend?  Are there any highlights you could share?

It was interesting, though I’m far from a natural networker and can’t hold my drink – so I passed on the bar sessions that lasted through the night till 6.30am. So probably the highlight was talking to the bloggers, many of whom have been very supportive of Stasi Child. It was great to meet some I hadn’t met before but had Twitter-messaged: for example Raven Crime Reads and Christine from Northern Crime.

David YoungI’ve seen you pictured in a Hull City shirt so let’s talk football. Has it been a good footy year as a Hull fan?

We’ve been promoted back into the Premier League and I got to see us at Wembley for the fourth time in nine years, a pretty impressive record for a club that’s spent most of its history in the second and third tiers of the English league. So, from that point of view, yes. Unfortunately – despite promotion – there’s a poisonous atmosphere surrounding Hull City at the moment, a hangover from the owner’s ludicrous (IMHO) attempt to rebrand us Hull Tigers, which made us the laughing stock of football. The owners lost that battle but have now split the fanbase again by abolishing season tickets, and introducing a membership scheme which offers no concessions to juniors or senior citizens, much to many fans’ anger. So Wembley was a strange affair. We sold out for the FA Cup final and our first play-off final. This time, understandably, there were swathes of empty seats.

Some quick fire questions:

  • What was the last book you read?

Fellow Bonnier Zaffre author Simon Booker’s Without Trace.

  • Which one book (not your own) would you recommend?

Alone in Berlin (aka Every Man Dies Alone) by Hans Fallada

  • Favourite film?

Hmm. Can’t think of one (I prefer crime series on TV – eg Spiral/Engrenages), but did really enjoy Bridge of Spies.

  • Which one concert/show do you wish you had been able to attend?

Any featuring the original Orange Juice line-up

  • Drink of choice?

Cheap French Rosé – we stock up on Pays d’Hérault from Carrefour Calais at less than £1.50 a pop.

  • Sandy Beaches/City Break or Great Outdoors holiday?

Sandy Beaches – especially the Greek islands.

 

And finally the Book Chain question to send me on my next adventure…

Can you suggest an author I should ask to join me next to keep my Q&A Chain going? 

Once you have nominated someone I also need a question to ask them on your behalf.

My fellow City University Crime Thriller MA graduate Rod Reynolds.
David’s question is currently redacted. Mr Reynolds you can expect a DM….

 

My most sincere thanks goes to David Young.  I read (and loved) Stasi Child and you can read my review here.

Stasi Child is published by Twenty 7 and you can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stasi-Child-Chilling-Thriller-Oberleutnant/dp/1785770063/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465765962&sr=8-1&keywords=stasi+child

Category: Guests | Comments Off on Book Chains – David Young (1st Link)