December 18

Guest Post – Michael Malone: Serial Heroes

Day four and another chance for me to find out which books the authors like to read. My curiosity extends beyond a single title or a novel which inspired – I want to know which characters my guests like to follow and see developed over a period of time. I want to know the ongoing series that they look forward to reading or to revisit when the chance arises.

This week-long feature began with Douglas Skelton and Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct.  Next was Angela Marsons discussing Val McDermid’s Tony Hill books. Yesterday Helen Giltrow shared her love of Mick Herron’s Slough House books. 

Today I am delighted to welcome Michael J Malone, author of the phenomenal Guillotine Choice and creator of the DI Ray McBain series.  Michael’s latest book Beyond The Rage has been receiving rave reviews (including my own 5 star review) and in 2016 his next novel, A Suitable Lie, will be published by Orenda Books.

I am particularly pleased that Michael was able to take part in this feature – his encouragement of my book obsession ultimately resulted in the creation of this blog. I am always keen to know what Michael is reading…over the years he has directed me to some fantastic books.



The Neon RainJames Lee Burke’s story is one that all writers should heed. His first book was published in 1965. Other books followed in 1970 and 1971. Then the publishing world turned their back on him and he couldn’t publish a word for love, money or whisky. His fourth book, The Lost Get Back Boogie was rejected 111 times – that’s not a typo – over a nine year period. Eventually, when it did get published it was nominated for Pulitzer Prize.

Proof it it’s needed in the William Goldman quote, “Nobody knows nothing.” Goldman was of course talking about the movie industry, but he might as well have been talking about publishing.

In 1984, while fishing, JLB’s friend suggested he should try writing a crime novel. Burke later decamped to a coffee shop and started scribbling on a yellow, legal pad. The Neon Rain, the first novel to feature Dave Robicheaux was born.

Once an officer for the New Orleans police department, Dave Robicheaux constantly breaks the ethical code during the course of just about every case he works on and in the current run of novels pursues cases in New Iberia, Louisiana as a sheriff’s deputy. He is a recovering alcoholic who is haunted by his service in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and his impoverished, tough childhood in Louisiana; his mother abandoned the family (and was later murdered) and his father was killed in an oil rig explosion.

He may break the expected code of police ethics, but Dave has a strong moral compass and through the course of the books is continuously exercised by the abuse of power, social inequalities and the battle between good and evil.

When you crack open the spine of a James Lee Burke novel you are never in doubt that you are in for something special. There is a richness to this man’s writing that cannot fail to delight. His words transport you so that you feel you are on location with the characters and that poetry combined with the vitality and violence of his characters is a potent combination.

Light of the WorldBurke specialises in imbuing his characters with certainty of action, even while their motives are conflicted. He has the talent to work his way under the skin of his characters; to cut into the underbelly of the human psyche and display it in all its many guises. Whether that be those individuals who succumb to the power and pulse of quotidian evil or those struggling to make sense of their lives and make peace with their lot

His set pieces are sharp and effective and his prose swoops and soars with a lyricism that would make a poet’s heart ache with envy. The plot continues to drive you forward but you force yourself to slow down: to savour the quality of the words arranged on the page.

James Lee Burke has won an Edgar award twice and he is acknowledged as one of America’s finest living novelists. If you haven’t already done so, you owe it to yourself to check him out.


You can find all of James Lee Burke’s novels at his Amazon Page:

MjMMichael Malone also has a handy page over at Amazon to let you track down his books easily too:


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December 16

Guest Post – Helen Giltrow: Serial Heroes

It is Day Three of my quest to discover which ongoing crime and thriller series my favourite authors look forward to reading.

Thus far Douglas Skelton has shared his love of the Ed McBain 87th Precinct books  and Angela Marsons told us why she enjoys Val McDermid’s Tony Hill stories.

Today I am delighted to welcome Helen Giltrow back to Grab This Book.  I reviewed Helen’s brilliant thriller The Distance earlier this year and she kindly answered a few of my questions for a Q&A (one of the hardest I have written as The Distance was clever, sophisticated and I was a bit daunted sending questions through to Helen that would not show me up).

When I was planning this week of features I really wanted Helen to take part. Helen attended the Bloody Scotland festival in Stirling earlier this year – she was one of the fabulous Killer Women panel. I managed to catch up with her in the festival bookshop and we traded book recommendations for much longer than most people will talk about books with me! Helen mentioned lots of books and authors that afternoon but one author’s name stood out and her enthusiasm for his books shone through:



Mick Herron’s Slough House series

Dead LionsI wasn’t going to like Mick Herron’s Slough House books. Forget Slow Horses’ shortlisting for the CWA Steel Dagger, and Dead Lions’ Gold Dagger, Best Crime Novel win. Forget the critical acclaim. Forget even the spy-thriller tag, which given that I was raised on Le Carre’s Smiley novels should at least have piqued my interest. On its original (US) paperback cover, Dead Lions was described as ‘a send-up’ and ‘a romp’. I like my crime fiction dark and serious. I nearly didn’t buy it.

If I hadn’t, this post would have been about another author’s books – Le Carre’s, James Lee Burke’s or Tana French’s. But right now, if there’s one series I would urge you to read – even if you don’t like espionage novels, or consider yourself allergic to books that win awards or get described as romps – it would be Slough House.

Let’s start with the premise. Slough House itself is a dingy central-London office building where the screw-ups of MI5 – men and women the Service no longer wants but can’t afford to sack – are subjected to an unending round of pointless, soul-destroying tasks, in the hope that they’ll resign. Variously alcoholic, addicted, personality-disordered, aggressive, inept, or just plain unlucky, they work under a former field agent, Jackson Lamb, who treats them with spectacular levels of abuse and contempt. But they refuse to leave, hoping that one day, somehow, they’ll get their chance to win their old jobs back …

A different author would simply have used that as the set-up, quickly springing his heroes out of their office prison and into a world that only they can save. Herron doesn’t, instead anchoring his action firmly in Slough House and thus setting out his stall. The international glamour of James Bond, the grimy endurance-test heroics of Jason Bourne? They don’t get a look-in. Here’s a series grounded in a world most of us can recognize – where ordinary, slightly useless, occasionally appalling people work in a horrible office, live in hope … and keep on screwing up.

Of course, there’s still escapist fun to be had, in spades. And great jokes. (The books are properly funny, the sort of funny that’s had me laughing out loud on trains; the dialogue in particular is a joy, packed with one-liners and smarting with noir-ish wit.) There’s gorgeous writing, too – Herron’s prose is lovely – and fiendishly twisty plot construction: some chapters are multiple-viewpoint masterclasses in misdirection and withholding.

And Herron knows his genre. Each book has a strong espionage hook: extremists threatening an innocent with execution in Slow Horses, a mysterious message left by a murdered former agent in Dead Lions, an Intelligence officer held to ransom in the forthcoming Real Tigers. Even so, you can’t help feeling that (as was famously once said of Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor) they’re ‘not really about spying’.

Slow HorsesWhat drives them are the characters. And not just the inmates of Slough House – which include River Cartwright, the series’ idealistic hero; the self-deluding hacker Roderick Ho; the unshakeably vile Lamb, whose cartoonish excesses hide a dark past; and Lamb’s recovering-alcoholic PA, the ‘mad governess’ Catherine Standish … A supporting cast spans the whole hierarchy of espionage, from burnt-out former assets and disgraced spies, through the lower ranks, the fixers and enforcers, to the ‘Second Desk’ of MI5, Diana Taverner – sophisticated, treacherous, and permanently at war with her boss Dame Ingrid Tierney – and her political masters.

The interchanges between the ranks, the jockeyings for advantage at every level, strike sparks that light these books. More than anything else these are stories about people, and the inequalities of power.

I guess that’s why I object to ‘romp’ so much – and ‘send-up’, and ‘caper’ too. For me, those terms imply not just a knowing smugness in the writing but also a frivolousness: it’s all right, it’s just a game. Herron knows its isn’t, especially when lives are at stake, or power is being abused. However fabulously entertaining the Slough House books are, they’re serious too, shot through with quiet tragedy, courage, grief, even tenderness; occasionally, anger. For all the energy, the wit, the stylistic fireworks, there’s a bedrock awareness of real-world issues in these books, a restrained seriousness behind the jokes, an intentness of purpose that I really, really like.

The Slough House series is good, and getting even better. I recommend you read it.


Slow Horses and Dead Lions are available in paperback, published by John Murray; they are also part of this month’s (December 2015) Kindle Deals, at 99p each.

The spin-off novel Nobody Walks – shortlisted for this year’s CWA Steel Dagger – has just been published in paperback by Soho Press.

The next Slough House book, Real Tigers, comes out in February 2016.


Visit Mick Herron’s Amazon page to see all his books and pick up any which take your fancy:

Orion AuthorsHelen’s Amazon page is here:

I reviewed Helen’s brilliant thriller The Distance earlier this year and you can read my review: The Distance  Helen also joined me for a Q&A when The Distance was released in paperback.



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December 15

Guest Post – Angela Marsons: Serial Heroes

Back in October I spent an entertaining evening listening to Mr Douglas Skelton discussing his writing experiences. During the course of the conversation Douglas told the assembled gathering that he was a fan of the Ed McBain 87th Precinct books.  That got me wondering which other ongoing series of crime novels authors looked forward to reading. I decided I would try and find out.

I asked five authors if they would like to prepare a short guest post in which they shared their thoughts on their favourite crime series. As it was Douglas that started this quest he got to kick off proceedings yesterday and you can read his thoughts on Ed McBain’s books here:

Today I am delighted to welcome my second guest: Angela Marsons.

When I drew up my Top Ten books of 2015 Angela presented me with a bit of a dilemma – she released three books during the year (Silent Scream, Evil Games and Lost Girls) but under my strict rules I could only allow myself to include one of her books in the list. All were worthy of inclusion and if you have not yet met DI Kim Stone then I suggest you rectify that as soon as you have finished reading this article!

I will pass this over to Angela now – I suspect that she would not be alone with this selection…



When I was asked to write a piece about my favourite series of books there was no hesitation in my choosing the ‘Tony Hill’ series of books written by Val McDermid.

I love everything this lady writes and would happily read her shopping list if she would let me.

In the Tony Hill series Val McDermid taps into the two things that interest me the most in both reading and writing.  Psychology and Crime.

Splinter the SilenceTony Hill is a psychological profiler who is both driven and damaged but very intriguing.  None of the books satisfy my need to know more about him which has to be the mark of a true genius that after nine books I’m still hungry for more.

I enjoy the chemistry between the character of Tony Hill and Carol Jordan and the inability of our hero to take their relationship to the next level only adds to the intrigue of his character and offers us yet another layer to his personality.  The character of Carol Jordan is not without her flaws but is the perfect foil to let Tony Hill shine.

It was through the television series that I discovered these books as I am a great fan of Robson Green who I think portrays the character perfectly.  So well, in fact, that the part could have been written for him.

Even though I had watched the television series this did not detract from my enjoyment of the books.  Many plot twists and storylines that exist in the books do not make it to the screen and reading the book is like rediscovering the story all over again but with many more stories expertly threaded in too.

To get the best out of these books I would suggest cancelling your plans, switching off the phone, laptop, iPad and smart phone and just immerse yourself in a spectacular journey that starts on the very first page.



Angela MarsonsAngela Marsons can be found over at

She is also on Twitter: @WriteAngie

I reviewed Silent Scream, Evil Games and Lost Girls earlier this year and you can link through to my reviews by clicking on the book title.  If you missed which of the three I included in my Top Ten I eventually opted for Evil Games (best villain in any of the books that I read this year).

Visit Angela’s Amazon page where you can easily purchase any of her books:


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December 15

Guest Post: Douglas Skelton – Serial Heroes

I live in the mostly unfashionable area of North Lanarkshire in Scotland. Surrounded by Glasgow (Aye Write), Edinburgh (the International Book Festival) and Stirling (Bloody Scotland) it is hard to see why authors would venture into the ‘Badlands’ of Airdrie, Motherwell Coatbridge and Bellshill – but they do!

North Lanarkshire hosts a cultural festival each October: Encounters and the magnificent organisation team encourage some amazing talent to visit our libraries and town halls. In 2015 I was thrilled to meet Paul Finch, Elizabeth Haynes and Douglas Skelton (while sadly missing Simon Toyne and Mason Cross when family responsibilities could not be shirked).

It was during Douglas Skelton’s Encounter that the idea for this feature was sparked.

Douglas was talking about the books he likes to read and he mentioned Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct stories.  My ears pricked up – I loved those books but seldom find other people who read them too…which just seems ridiculous given how good they are!

I often ask authors which books they find inspiring or what books influenced their writing but I never ask them which ongoing series they love to read.  Personally I love an ongoing story – it stems from reading Spider-man comics as a kid (a story 50+ years in the telling and still going on).  I always look for the next Rebus novel, the new Logan McRae or another Jack Reacher book – surely authors must also have their favourite collections too?

Well there was only one way I was going to find out.  I contacted 5 authors and asked if they would like to write a short piece about the crime/thriller series that they love to read. Each person I had asked kindly agreed and (even better) they all picked a different series – phew!

Over the next few days I will introduce my guests and let them talk about the series close to their heart but it is only right that Mr Skelton kicks things off – it WAS his idea.



GIVE THE BOYSI was in my teens when I picked up my first 87th Precinct novel by Ed McBain. Sufficient water has run under the bridge since then to refloat the Titanic so I can’t say with any certainty which one it was – possibly ‘Give the Boys a Great Big Hand’ – but I know I was immediately hooked.

I loved the no-nonsense storytelling with occasional lapses into poetry as he described his city. I loved the humour. I loved the ensemble of characters. I loved the fact that even characters who appear for only a page or two seemed to spring into life ready-made. I loved the occasionally staccato dialogue in interviews.

Now, years later, I love their brevity. No fat here. No padding. It’s SAS crime writing at its finest – get in, get the job done, get out again.

axAnd his city. Isola. It doesn’t actually exist but boy, does it step off the page along with the bulls in the detective squad. You can hear the roar of the traffic, smell the petrol fumes, hear the grey waters of the Harb lapping on the docks. It’s a cliché to say that the setting is a character in a novel but these books prove there is truth in it. You believe this place is real. And that, my friend, is an achievement. I’ve read some books set in actual cities that don’t seem as real.

I’ve read and reread every one of the titles in the series, 51 in all. I still have most of them, in paperback and hardback, although I lost some when my home was flooded a few years ago. I generally go back to them before I begin a new novel, just to touch base, just to see if some of the magic will rub off.

McBain also wrote more ‘literary’ novels as Evan Hunter and some pulp as Richard Marston, although his real name was Salvatore Albert Lombino.

He wrote a slew of other novels as McBain, some good, some not so much, but it’s the 87th Precinct books that have become my touchstone, my inspiration, the books I wish I could’ve written had I been able.

He died ten years ago this year but his novels remain alive.

Isola lives.


DOUGLAS SKELTONDouglas can be found online at:

He also has his own Amazon page where you can find his novels and true crime books:


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December 10

Goodbye Spider…Hello Subject 375 – Nikki Owen

Subject 375

What to believe
Who to betray
When to run…

Plastic surgeon Dr Maria Martinez has Asperger’s. Convicted of killing a priest, she is alone, in prison and has no memory of the murder.

DNA evidence places Maria at the scene of the crime, yet she claims she’s innocent. Then she starts to remember…
A strange room. Strange people. Being watched.
As Maria gets closer to the truth she is drawn into a web of international intrigue and must fight not only to clear her name but to remain alive.


This may sound familiar to some – even if the name of the book does not.

Keep reading.


We are all quite used to seeing our favourite books re-jacketed…the nightmare scenario for a reader with OCD when your collection of an author’s work suddenly changes appearance mid-way through the range! However, a book to changing its name is not quite so common yet here we are with Nikki Owen who has some pretty damn exciting news.

The hugely popular The Spider in the Corner of the Room is being relaunched with a new cover and a new title: Subject 375. The changes will bring Nikki’s fabulous thriller into line with the global releases providing a unified international identity.

So how did Nikki react to the changes when she saw them?

Seeing the new cover for the first time was oddly exciting – here we were not simply scratching our heads wondering what to do, but instead listening to readers about Spider, how the cover confused them as to the genre. And now we’d made a new cover, a new adventure, almost for the main character, Maria. And, of course, Subject 375 is so relevant to Maria, so crucial to the plot. But of course, I can’t reveal why. You’ll have to read the book ;-).”

Subject 375 is the first title of the Project Trilogy – while we impatiently wait the arrival of book two we can but hope that the arrival of Subject 375 brings us one step closer!


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December 8

Blue Wicked – Alan Jones – Blog Tour

Blue wicked 2Earlier this year I read the fantastic Blue Wicked by Alan Jones. Set in Glasgow it took readers to some of the less glamourous parts of the city and introduced us to some of the more ‘earthy’ types.  Words like ‘gritty’ and ‘nasty’ cropped up frequently when I talked about Blue Wicked but I absolutely loved it – a story which does not shirk away from the darker side of society.

When I heard that there would be a blog tour for Blue Wicked I knew I had to be involved. As my review had already been written (read it here) I asked Alan if he could possibly prepare a small guest post that would allow me to join in. As I live on the ‘wrong side’ of the city from where the action in Blue Wicked takes place I suggested that a walk around the locations would be fun – I am always keen to know what may inspire an author to use a particular setting.  Fortunately Alan seemed quite keen….


When Gordon suggested that I should write about some of the locations featured in Blue Wicked, I thought it was a great idea.

I spent most of my formative years on the north side of Glasgow, and I went to Glasgow University in the city’s West end so The Cabinetmaker, my first book, was set in those parts of the city that I knew so well.

But Blue Wicked is set mostly on the South side of Glasgow, so I had to do a bit more research to find suitable locations where the narrative of the book would be placed.

When I’m writing, I mostly choose a general area, then write large screeds of the book first, before finding specific suitable locations that fit in with the plot, but there are key areas where it helps to have an idea of where the action is happening before too much detail goes on to the page.

Blue Wicked Image 1In Blue Wicked, the two parts of the book where location really mattered to the writing process were James Prentice’s murder scene and the final chapters of the book. Both of these were set in Renfrew, an industrial town just west of Glasgow itself, but on the south side of the river.

Blue Wicked Image 2I had help from Ronnie, a friend of mine, who had lived in Renfrew all his life, and who took me on a grand tour of the town. I had already spotted the Babcock Factory loading bay on Google Earth, and seeing the area, with the Inchinnan bridge and the River Cart, I knew I’d found the ideal spot for wee Jamsie Prentice’s murder.

I’ve done a fair bit of sailing in the Clyde estuary, but never further up the Clyde than Gourock, so I had to do a bit of research, studying nautical charts of the area, and tidal flows, to make the journey he made down the Clyde on the makeshift raft as realistic as possible.

Blue Wicked Image 3For the final two or three chapters, I toured the housing estates and shopping areas of Renfrew, and found just what I was looking for. It made the writing so much easier when I could place myself, in my imagination, on the streets I was writing about. The row of shops in the main street exists, but the deserted butcher’s shop is long since gone.

Google Earth, especially with street-view, is an amazing tool when researching locations for a book but there’s no substitute for walking around a place to get a feel of it, and talking to the people who live and work there.  That’s when you can sometimes pick up little stories or hidden histories that add a bit of local colour to the narrative.

Blue Wicked Image 4It’s sometimes necessary to make changes to a location to fit in with the plot. The petrol Garage where Stevie had his drinking den and the derelict industrial estate it sat in were an amalgamations of two separate locations, and the arrangement of the streets around Spencey’s house is slightly different in the book. And aside from knocking people’s doors to ask to see inside their houses, the internal layout usually involves a bit of guesswork.

I find that Glasgow and the surrounding area, while not maybe quite as iconic or eye-catching as Edinburgh, is a fantastic place for a book setting, especially if the book taps in to the grittiness and friendly humour of the city and its people.



Blue Wicked is published by Ailsa Press and is available in paperback and on Kindle:




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November 16

Blood Axe – Q&A with Leigh Russell

Today I am delighted to be able to welcome Leigh Russell to Grab This Book. I  was introduced to Leigh’s work last year when I read Race to Death a great murder mystery which featured DI Ian Peterson who also takes the lead in Leigh’s new book: Blood Axe.  I was thrilled to be offered the chance to join the Blood Axe blog tour and I was delighted that Leigh agreed to take time to answer a few of my questions.


Can you tell us a little about Blood Axe?

Blood Axe features perhaps one of my simplest and yet most mysterious killers so far. It’s difficult to say too much without risking spoilers, so I think all I can say is, please read the book and find out… In Blood Axe, Ian Peterson has his work cut out trying to trace a very elusive killer while, at the same time, coping with the threatened break down of his marriage.

Blood AxeBlood Axe is the third book to feature DI Ian Peterson as the lead character yet readers may still primarily associate you with the Geraldine Steel novels. Why did you decide to give Peterson a chance to run solo rather than create a new detective team from scratch?

When Geraldine Steel moves to London, leaving her sergeant behind, they keep in touch. Ian Peterson appears briefly in her following books. So when the Geraldine Steel series became popular, and my publisher was talking about my writing a second series, a spin off series for Ian Peterson seemed like a good idea.  It has been a challenge to develop the two characters and have them  interact across the two series, at the same time making sure each book also works as a stand alone for readers who chance upon any of them. After what happens to Ian Peterson in Blood Axe, there are plenty of interesting possibilities for his future, but I don’t want to include any spoilers here!

Do you begin a new book by deciding that you are going to write a Geraldine Steel or Ian Peterson story or does the plot idea come first and you work out which character is the ‘best fit’ for the lead?

The process starts with my schedule, and which series I need to write for next. If I have to deliver a manuscript for Geraldine Steel in six months’ time, I can’t become engrossed in a story set in York.  Recently I  signed a three book deal with Thomas and Mercer, as well as accepting another three book deal for No Exit Press. With the new Lucy Hall series to write, I have decided to focus on Geraldine Steel and the Ian Peterson series is going to lapse for a while. But he is not going to disappear as a character, so you can speculate about what is going to happen next, which is what I’m doing right now.

As Blood Axe draws upon on the history of York, and features one of the main tourist attractions in the city, I imagine that Blood Axe was always going to be a Peterson book?

Yes, the inspiration for Blood Axe came to me while I was on a visit to York. By chance the British Museum was hosting a major exhibition, with lectures, about the Vikings, giving me access to some of the world experts on Viking culture and civilisation. The exhibition and lectures were fascinating, and the experts were incredibly helpful, as I was keen to make sure my Viking’s thoughts and beliefs were as authentic as possible.

Why did you choose York for Peterson’s stories?

I wanted him to move to a town or city that was a long way from Kent, where his wife’s family live. He has connections with the area, as he was born there. But the most important reason was that I love York, and setting the Ian Peterson series there means I can go there regularly on research trips. I’ll be back there in November for book signings, and back again in March when I’ll be talking at York Literature Festival about why I set my series in York.

I always like to ask this:  Why do readers love serial killer stories given how horrific the concept is in reality?

True crime is a popular  genre, and I understand its appeal, but I don’t like reading about real crimes. I find it too upsetting. Yet somehow, in fiction, crime becomes a form of entertainment. I think there are several reasons for the appeal of serial killers. Crime fiction is, basically, goodies and baddies. The more evil the villain is, the more desperate readers are to see the killer brought to justice. So serial killers make for tense reading. They can also be interesting characters, and I am always fascinated by my killers. A review in Crime Time wrote that ‘Russell takes the reader into the darkest recesses of the human psyche’. I’m not sure how I get there, but it’s all fiction!

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

 My taste in reading is fairly eclectic. I was fortunate enough to spend four years studying English Literature at university, which meant that I basically spent four years reading. I really can’t pick out favourite authors, but a few I particularly like are Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Mary Shelley, Dickens, Jeffery Deaver, Edith Wharton, Kazuo Ishiguru, Frances Fyfield, Lee Child, Simin Beckett… there are hundreds more… it’s a bit of a mixture!

leigh_russellWhen do you find time to write and do you have a writing habit or routine?

I am so busy at the moment, with a new book just out, that is quite difficult to find time to write. That said, I have no set routine, and am rarely free to spend a whole day at home focusing solely on writing. There is always something going on, meetings with my publishers, book signings, library talks, literary festivals, interviews, research, apart from everything else in life… When I can spend a day at home, I usually stay in bed until late morning, answering emails and planning my writing for the day… with a little procrastination on social media thrown in… After that, I move into my study and settle down to write. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter to me where I am as I write in bed, at my desk, in the car (not when I’m driving!), on the train, in cafes. I never leave the house without my ipad. The final edited manuscript for the first book in my new Lucy Hall series, Journey to Death, was emailed from a beach in the Seychelles where I had gone on a research trip. With the Internet, you really can write anywhere in the world.

Are you a meticulous plotter, do you sit down and prepare exactly how the story will unfold before you start to write?

I try to plot my books carefully in advance, but my ideas don’t always work out. The overall shape of the book is in my head before I start, what Lee Child calls his “five second elevator pitch”, but writing books is an organic process for me. If is much more fun to write and see what happens. Sometimes it works out on the first attempt. With more books to write, I am having to work to tighter deadlines with less time for revising and reworking, so I might have to be more meticulous at the planning stage.

When not writing how do you enjoy spending your downtime?

I haven’t had any down time for about six years, but I enjoy what I do and think myself lucky to be able to write full time.

Finally, can you give us any clues as to what we can hope to see in your next book?

I’m just planning the ninth Geraldine Steel novel. There may be some surprising revelations about Geraldine’s family that lead her to question herself and the kind of person she is. Oh, and there’s a murder fairly early on…


My thanks to Leigh.

Blood Axe is published by No Exit Press and is available in paperback and digital formats here:

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October 21

The House on Cold Hill Q&A with Peter James

The House On Cold HillToday I am delighted to welcome Peter James to Grab This Book. I have been a fan of horror/ghost stories for many years and when I first discovered Peter’s books his chilling tales gave me many sleepless nights. Peter’s new book The House on Cold Hill marks a his return to the horror genre, I am grateful to Peter for taking time to answer a few of my questions.


Can you give us a quick summary of The House on Cold Hill? What can readers expect?

The book is about a couple of townies, Ollie and Caro Harcourt, who move from the heart of the city of Brighton and Hove to their dream home in the Sussex countryside, with their twelve year old daughter, Jade, who does not share their enthusiasm.  Jade is stroppy and unhappy about leaving Brighton where all her friends are. But Caro and Ollie both love the idea of a big restoration project, and despite the huge financial strain, and a number of warnings in the surveyors report, they buy Cold Hill House – a huge, dilapidated, Georgian mansion.  Within days of moving in with, it soon becomes apparent that the Harcourt family aren’t the only residents in the house….. The first thing that happens is that Jade is up in her room a couple of days later, on Facetime, to her best friend in Brighton, when her friend suddenly says, ‘Jade, who is that lady standing behind you?’


As I was reading I was trying to work out if the House could possibly be considered the central character with Oliver and his family as supporting players. Do you consider this to be Ollie’s story or the story of the House?

Well, I love the strapline that my publishers came up with for ‘THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL’…. ‘Evil Isn’t Born, It’s Built’.   I’ll leave the context of that to your imagination!


Every town seems to have a house which the locals believe may be haunted – is the house in the book based on a real property?

The House On Cold Hill is very much inspired by – and modeled on – an isolated historic house in Sussex that my former wife and I bought in 1989, and lived in for a decade – and which turned out to be very seriously haunted.


Have you ever seen a ghost?

I have never actually seen a ghost, however, at the house I mention in the previous question there were many things that happened that I couldn’t explain. I saw on many occasions, tiny pinpricks of white light floating in the air.  A medium who I used a lot during my writing of Possession, visited my house and she told me I was slightly psychic, and that is why I saw these pinpricks, and that while I was not actually seeing the entire apparition, I was picking up on some of its energy.


Do you need to adopt a very different approach to building a horror story than you may need to write a crime novel?

It is a different approach for sure. With my series of crime novels I have to keep the consistency throughout the series and bring in continuity with characters, places, and my research with the police is as accurate as I can possibly make it. With the horror story which based on ghostly experiences I can go a little more free-form and let my imagination take over!


At the risk of spoilers – is there one scene in your book you are particularly happy with? Perhaps one that you had fun writing?

A key element of the story is a mysterious window in the dilapidated Georgian mansion that my couple buy.  A window that, they one day realize, is for a room that does not appear to exist.  A room that has no door…  I really enjoyed writing this part.   And there is a chilling postscript to my writing ‘THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL’.… In addition to my home in Sussex, I have an apartment on two floors in Notting Hill.   A month after finishing the book my wife, Lara, and I were walking along the street beneath, looking up, and talking about his particular part of the book.  Suddenly Lara asked, pointing up, ‘Which room is that window in?’ We stood there frozen for some moments, as it began to dawn on us that the window did not make sense.  We could not work out which room it was.  We ran in, raced up the six flights of stairs and into each of the two rooms which the “mystery” window seem to straddle.  But there was no window!  We finally did solve the mystery – the builders who had put a fitted wardrobe in the master bedroom had, for whatever reason, decided to lose the window in the process and, leaving the glass on the outside, had timbered over the inside.

Who says truth is not stranger than fiction???!


I first encountered your books around the time of Prophecy, Twilight and Host. Back then you were competing for my reading time with King, Herbert, Hutson and to some extent Dean Koontz. Although Mr King is still prolific do you feel there is less choice for horror readers these days or am I missing new talent?

For a long time horror went out of fashion, and many old horror writers that I knew found it increasingly hard to get published and to gain shelf space in bookstores, so I would strongly agree that there is less choice. It was one of the reasons my publishers asked me if I would like to return to the genre.


You spend months creating a terrifying story to chill your readers but what scares you?

Many things! I’m scared of heights, and I am deeply claustrophobic – although that claustrophobia helped a lot in writing my first Roy Grace novel, Dead Simple, in which one of the characters is buried alive in a coffin in remote woods after a stag night prank goes wrong, with everyone who knows where he is – bar one person – dead in a car wreck.  And that one person has a very good reason to keep quiet.  I had myself put into a coffin, and the lid screwed down, for thirty minutes, as part of my research.  It was the most terrifying thirty minutes of my life!


After concentrating on the Roy Grace novels for so long was it liberating to switch to something so very different?

Yes I really enjoyed writing this and many of my Roy Grace fans are excited to read it too. For my very long-term fans this book will be like returning to some of my earlier work… my first successful novel, back in 1988, was Possession, a supernatural thriller, and I wrote several in this vein before moving on to psychological thrillers and then crime.  Much though I love writing my Roy Grace books – I’m currently working on the 12th in the series, there are other areas I’m very keen to explore.  I wrote Perfect People, a thriller about “designer” babies, which was published four years ago, in which I look at the choices science will ultimately give parents on choosing the genetic make-up of their offspring.  I loved writing it and the book was highly successful.  My publishers thought it would be fun for me to have a return to the supernatural, and they were right.  I had a great time writing The House On Cold Hill, and certainly plan to write more in this field.  Possibly even a sequel!


Your books have enjoyed a great deal of success and you are a household name what advice would you offer to young aspiring writers?

There is only one way to penetrate the world of writing novels, and that is to write novels.  I don’t believe good writers can be taught, although I think their technique can be helped.  My most important recommendation to any young person who wants to write novels is to read, read and read.  Particularly the kind of novels they would like to write – and to deconstruct them, literally – and work out what made them like this or that particular book.  How did the writer get them hooked… how did the writer make them care for the characters….  It is impossible to stress this enough


What are you currently reading?Peter james

I read avidly and widely and my biggest regret is that being a writer ironically means I never get to read as much as I want.  The reason is I don’t like to read fiction while I am in the first draft writing process – which is around 7 months of each year – as it is too easy to pick up someone else’s style.  But then I read huge amounts of non-fiction, some for research and some for pleasure. I recently really enjoyed ‘I Let You Go’ by Claire Macintosh. I was first sent it as a proof, asking for a quote, and I was utterly gripped.  It is wonderfully written, with credible and interesting characters, and has one of the most astonishing twists I’ve ever read, turning the story completely on hits head halfway through.  It was one of those rare books I put down thinking, “Gosh, wish I’d written this!”


Are you able to give us any clues as to what you are currently working on?

I’m currently working hard to finish Roy Grace 12, it’s called ‘Love You Dead’.  I have the stage play of my novella, ‘The Perfect Murder’, coming back on tour early next year so we are casting for that. It will star Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace and has had two hugely successful nationwide tours already. I hope also to share some good news about Roy Grace on TV soon!


My most sincere thanks to Peter.

The House on Cold Hill is available now in Hardback and Digital format.  My 5 star review can be found here

Category: 5* Reviews, Guests | Comments Off on The House on Cold Hill Q&A with Peter James
October 15

The Girl Who: Q&A with Marnie Riches

the girl who wouldnt die 2Today I am delighted to be able to welcome Marnie Riches to Grab This Book. I  loved the first two books in The Girl Who series and have been dying for the chance to ask Marnie a few questions to get some insights into how these great stories came together.


First, could I ask you to introduce us to George?

Who is The Girl Who?

Georgina McKenzie – George, for short – is a South East London girl who hails from a very tough council estate in an impoverished, crime-ridden part of the city. Trapped between the tyranny of urban gangs and an unloving, disloyal mother, George uses her intellect to escape a future as a petty criminal. She learns her way to Cambridge University, where, in the course of the series, she blossoms from a social politics undergraduate into a fully-fledged criminologist. Her weaknesses are crisps, an often abrasive attitude and loving the wrong men. Her strengths include a keen analytical mind that can piece together the most perplexing of puzzles, razor-sharp instincts that cut through the densest of bullshit and a very low tolerance threshold for bullies.

How do you describe The Girl Who books to prospective readers?

The Girl Who books are fast-paced, gritty international crime thrillers that examine the dark side of sexuality and expose the shocking fallout from trans-national trafficking. If you’re looking for gentle, quiet reads, this series is not for you. The language is sometimes strong and the body counts are high – reflecting what goes on in Europe’s criminal underworld. All three books start with the hunt for a brutal multiple murderer but twist and turn into something else. The stories don’t shy away from tackling tricky subjects like racial intolerance, drug misuse, pornography or child abuse. In many ways, they are reminiscent of Scandi-noir blockbusters by Nesbo and Stieg Larsson, but with a strong flavour of the quirky serial-killer brutality and intellectual flourishes that you find in Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs – principally because these three authors represent my main influences in the genre, and George is an academic. Police procedural balance is supplied by George’s partner, Amsterdam’s Chief Inspector Paul van den Bergen, who is a middle-aged misanthrope, suffering from crippling health anxiety. The series is very definitely character led, and readers tell me that they enjoy the quirky dynamic between George and Van den Bergen.

You recently won a Dead Good Readers award for The Most Exotic Location – why did you choose to have Amsterdam feature so heavily in your books?

My degree was in German and Dutch, so I had to spend a year living abroad as part of my studies. Despite having grand intentions of spending that year out in Aruba in the Dutch Antilles, I ended up living, studying and teaching in Utrecht, in the Netherlands. It’s a great city but small for a big-city-dweller like me. I always loved my visits to Amsterdam, so when I considered where to set my novels, Amsterdam was the obvious choice. It’s extremely beautiful, historic and sleazy as hell in parts. The world-famous red light district is one of the most fun places to visit – I’ve had many a misspent weekend there! Every red-lit booth and coffee shop seems to inspire a story in me…

Over the first two books George has a couple of men in her life and she seems to hold power over them both – she appears to be the Alpha. Does George need to be in control of this aspect of her life or does she just enthral the men she attracts?

It’s funny you should say that. It’s true that George doesn’t do demure at all. She’s sexually confident and, unless they are intimidated and turned off by a woman who knows her own mind, men become deeply attracted to her. She’s clever and vivacious, so why wouldn’t they? But she’s emotionally honest too. I think, for all she’s assertive and confident, George is actually deeply vulnerable in love – not really Alpha at all. She falls hard for her men and only gives consideration to protecting her heart when it’s too late. That’s the point at which the anger and righteous indignation start to pour out of her at speed and at volume! It’s a defence tactic. So, I don’t think George seeks control in her love life at all. I think she reels from one heartbreak situation to the next because deep down, she’s passionate, headstrong and soft as hell.

Marnie 2

How much of Marnie comes out in George?  Can you have her do and say things you would like to do yourself?

Absolutely! George does and says all the things I’d like to do and say but can’t. At 20, as she is in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, she has none of the responsibilities and problems with stiff joints that I have as a middle-aged woman! It’s true that some of George’s experiences are mine, however. I also grew up on a rough estate. My mother was a single parent and we struggled in impoverished circumstances. I also learned my way out of the ghetto and went to Cambridge. I am also an opinionated gobshite, but then, there’s a part of me in Van den Bergen too. I’ll leave it for the reader to decide how much is fiction and how much is fact!

Your books can be quite graphic in their depictions of violence, as a reader I like the edge that this gives the story.  Did you ever worry about excluding potential readers by giving the books a ‘darker’ tone?

The films and TV series that I enjoy contain graphic violence. I’m a big Tarantino fan. I adored The Wire and Breaking Bad. In many ways, my series is the literary equivalent of those small and big screen phenomena. Fast-paced, vivid plot. Big characters. Racially diverse cast. Big crime. Lots of blood. Similarly, my series contains some humour too, to lighten those grim moments, and the violence always has its place in adding depth to our understanding of the criminal perpetrators’ psyches. So, given my love of Scandi-noir fiction and that gold standard of crime novels – The Silence of the Lambs – I was never going to shy away from incorporating violence into my writing. We have far more gory stories to tell in the real world. The news is overflowing with war, genocide and murder, after all. And as a bit of a softy, violence serves as a form of escapism for me.

No doubt, the body count does exclude a minority of readers, but The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die got to #69 in Amazon’s kindle top 100 and won an award. The Girl Who Broke the Rules is riding high in the rankings only weeks after release and reviews are outstanding. So, I’m not entirely sure the series suffers as a result of my literary bloodshed!

George has encountered several killers through her research and also during the adventures she has experienced. I always like to ask this:  Why do readers love serial killer stories given how horrific the concept is in reality?

Serial killers form an intrinsic part of our collective oral history, like childhood tales of the bogeyman or urban myths. Every grown-up has heard of the Moors Murderers, Fred and Rose West, The Yorkshire Ripper… They’re gruesome anti-legends. Serial killers are so rare, that they always make headlines, and we read their stories with macabre fascination, precisely because they are such an anomaly in our otherwise ordered, safe and fairly predictable lives. Death is inevitable, but premature death at the hand of a violent killer is a primal fear, statistically founded on very little, but which we nevertheless experience with perverse relish and vicariously through the suffering of a few unfortunate individuals who do fall victim to society’s worst predators. Serial killers will always be fascinating.

Who do you enjoy reading (and does their work in any way shape your own writing style)?

I enjoy reading my fellow crime authors’ work, although with such a tight writing schedule, I struggle to make time for a concerted and sustained reading effort at the moment. I read out of genre too. Children’s, literary fiction, contemporary women’s, historical. Over the last year, I’ve read everything by Joshua Ferris, one or two by Lionel Shriver, one by Matt Haig, one by Tom Rob Smith, a Gill Paul, a C.L. Taylor, an Ava Marsh, Angela Marsons’ first, half of an Elizabeth Haynes, a chapter or two of one of Simon Toyne’s, half an Eva Dolan. I tend to read the books of people who are signed to my literary agency or people whom I know. None of it particularly influences me. I’ve had my own voice since day one and have a backlog of story ideas! I’ve been writing seriously for ten years, after all and was published as a children’s author before TheGirlWho series burst onto the crime scene!

Girl Who Broke the Rules 2Are you a meticulous plotter, do you sit down and prepare exactly how the story will unfold before you start to write?

I work to a two-six page synopsis that I write and agree with my agent in advance of embarking on the real graft. I’m fairly fastidious. I always replot my novels once my first drafts are finished, to ensure my high points and turning points are all in the correct places. Because I write in distinct scenes, it’s fairly easy to move things around, if necessary. I’m not one of those authors whose plot plans are longer than the actual book, but I’m not a pantser either. Nesbo is very tight on plotting and I always see Headhunters as a shining example of how to get it spot on.

If you had one chance to change the ending to ANY book what would you like to alter? My personal choice would be to undo a ‘significant’ event from the end of Agatha Christie’s Curtain.

I read Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials and enjoyed it immensely. I thought the last page, after hundreds of pages of written joy, however, was a let-down. I can’t think how I might have changed it, but I remember thinking I’d have liked him to finish an otherwise utterly perfect trilogy in a more satisfying manner. I think even the very best authors are often not especially good at ending novels. It’s a subtle art.

Finally, can you give us any clues as to what we can hope to see in your next book?

Ah, I’ve just handed The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows in, so I know exactly what kind of a twisty pulse-pounder is in store for you. In the midst of an Arctic freeze, George – now a fully qualified criminologist – must help fathom the mystery behind a brutal killer called Jack Frost and the ongoing fallout from one of Van Den Bergen’s stone cold cases… The theme of trafficking continues in this third instalment, and some of our favourite characters – goodies and baddies – put in an appearance. It’s a tale of loss, longing and revenge. As ever, there are murders to be solved, but this story is so much more than initial appearances suggest!



The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and The Girl Who Broke The Rules are published by Maze/HarperCollins.

Marnie is on Twitter: @Marnie_Riches

You can purchase The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die here:’t%20die&qid=1444944722&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1


The Girl Who Broke The Rules here:

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