December 31

A Killing Moon – Steven Dunne

A Killing MoonFor the young woman kidnapped on her way home from the pub, the nightmare is about to begin…

Weeks after Caitlin Kinnear goes missing, the police are unable to break her case. Worse they are not even certain harm has come to her. But determined to pursue all leads, DI Damen Brook and his team begin to trawl through the murky world of cheap migrant labour. Convinced that the answers lie hidden within its depths, Brook soon begins to realise Caitlin is in terrible danger.

When the body of another young girl turns up it becomes clear that Caitlin’s abduction might not be an isolated incident and the race is on to save her. But with time running out, can Brook put the pieces together and find Caitlin before it’s too late?


Thanks to Headline for my review copy

As 2015 drew to a close I realised that there were books in my TBR pile which had been sitting too long. I decided I would try to spend the last few weeks of the year catching up on some of the titles that had released earlier in the year – 2016 titles will take care of themselves.

So many books to choose from but following his appearance on the Britcrime Christmas Blab chat (which you can see here) I moved Steven Dunne’s A Killing Moon to the top of the queue – and what a great decision that turned out to be!

A Killing Moon was my first introduction to Steven’s books and is the 5th DI Brook novel. For a first time reader I can confirm that I had no problems picking up the storyline, did not feel that there was too much reliance upon backstory and (knowing that there are 4 books before A Killing Moon) am delighted that there are more books with DI Brook that I can look forward to catching up on in the New Year.

Events in A Killing Moon are dark, sinister and frequently disturbing – basically everything that I enjoy in a good crime thriller. And this IS a good crime thriller…a very good one. DI Brook is a strong lead character and his fellow officers form a good unit which make you want to read about them. This investigation is a nasty one though – Caitlin Kinnear has been abducted but rather than the murder investigation that the reader may expect to ensue Caitlin’s abduction is just the beginning of her ordeal.

Frequently chilling and always compelling – the investigation into Caitlin’s abduction kept me gripped and I could not get to the finale fast enough. A great story to bring my reading year to an end.


A Killing Moon is published by Headline and is available in paperback and digital format:



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December 27

Talking Serial Killers – Vol 2

12 months ago I had the opportunity to chat with David McCaffrey, author of Hellbound.  David had introduced a twist to his serial killer story and I was offered the opportunity to chat with David about Hellbound and about serial killers!  During the course of our conversation I asked:

Why do you think we (as readers) enjoy serial killer stories given the reality is such a horrific concept?” 

It is a question that I have re-visited several times since my chat with David and I have been fascinated with the different responses that I have received so decided to collate the replies.


In April Alexandra Sokoloff visited and I asked: why do we love a serial killer story? think the serial killer has become an iconic monster, like a vampire or werewolf or zombie (maybe replacing the pretty much defunct mummy!). This icon is of course a very idealized version of what a serial killer actually is. And I think it was Thomas Harris who mythologized the serial killer to classic monster status, although Stevenson’s Jekyll/Hyde, Stoker’s Dracula (supposedly based on the real-life Vlad the Impaler), and various depictions of Jack the Ripper were strong precursors. We are fascinated by the idea of pure evil in a human being.

However, the other component of why we love a serial killer story is because most authors (and screenwriters and filmmakers) who write about serial killers are dishonestly romanticizing them and leaving out the unmitigated, repellent malevolence of these men. About which more in a minute.

And there is also an unfortunate percentage of the population that gets off on reading about rape, torture, and murder.


But that was not where it ended as, during the preparation for our Q&A, Alex indicated that she had lots to offer on the subject of Serial Killers! Manna for a crime blogger…a full Q&A just around serial killers was the result and is one of my favourite interviews that I have hosted.  You can read our conversation in full here:



In February I had the chance to chat with Karen Long about her second Eleanor Raven novel The Vault. Raven hunts down a killer who likes to keep his victims around long after their death…

Why do you think that we all seem to enjoy reading about serial killers?

_DSC7396It is one of the defining aspects of the conscious mind that we seek to understand the mind of another. Have you not said to a loved one, “What are you thinking?”, “Penny for them?” or you see the personality and empathy in a pet? We look for the similarities and fear the differences. A great white shark is more terrifying than an orca, both are apex predators, roughly the same weight but we feel less threatened by the orca (count the ratio of shark to orca documentaries on the Discovery channel). It looks back at us with an intelligence and complexity of purpose that we believe we can understand. It’s more like than unlike us. The unconscious mind is terrifying; simple motor responses that can’t be tempered or reversed by logic, emotion or negotiation leave us vulnerable and afraid. Those atavistic fears, tamped down by collective intelligence and analysis need an airing if we are to survive. What better way to practise than from the safety of your own living room, protected by hearth, locks and a telephone. When we confront the serial killer in the safety of our imaginations, we look into the shark’s mind. It is a lesson in survival that dares us to look into a mind devoid of reason.

You can read our Q&A in full here:



Most recently I was delighted to welcome Marnie Riches back to Grab This Book.  We were chatting about the first two books of The Girl Who series – Marnie’s hero (George) has had more than one brush with violent killers so naturally I wanted to ask Marnie about her thoughts on Serial Killers:

Why do readers love serial killer stories given how horrific the concept is in reality?

Marnie 2Serial 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.

You can read our Q&A in full here:






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December 24

Talking Serial Killers – Vol 1

Back in January I kicked off the year with a Q&A with Hellbound author David McCaffrey. David’s book put a real twist on the Serial Killer story and got me thinking about how I (as a reader) viewed books about serial killers.  So I asked the question:

Why do you think we (as readers) enjoy serial killer stories given the reality is such a horrific concept?

I was quite happy with this question and have revisited it several times through the year. What has fascinated me has been the variety of responses I have received so I thought I would collate a few of them in a single post:

Fhellboundirst is David McCaffrey’s reply:

I think we’re fascinated with the concept of absolute evil and how someone can become so devoid of empathy and remorse. There could be many reasons for this fascination…it is because we feel sorry for the events that lead them to become that way? Is it because we sometimes see aspects of ourselves in their character? It’s acknowledged that you cannot have good without evil, light without darkness.  And because of this, as readers, we find ourselves eager to see what horrific acts characters can get up to and what will be done to defeat them.

After all, are they not the more interesting? We seek to find those moments where we can feel affinity with the shadier side of human nature because, as a contradiction, it also makes us feel safe. We know that evil is simply an excuse for unacceptable behaviour and that, if the surface of it is scratched, like a poorly rendered wall it will crumble away.

I think we’ll always find evil personable because at its core, we need to believe that there is more to it than simply basic desire to cause harm and that such characters are more complex than that. That good and evil are but two sides of the same coin. As Obadiah Stark tells Father Hicks prior to his execution “Evil is simply live spelt backwards.”

You can read the full Q&A here:


In April I got to chat with Sarah Hilary:

NoD-blogWhy do you believe readers of crime fiction enjoy a serial killer story when the reality is such a terrible concept?

Perhaps because it’s such a terrible concept. I do my best writing when I’ve become obsessed with an idea — not always a crime, sometimes a human condition, or a social or psychological phenomenon — and I have to write through it to satisfy my curiosity, or my terror. I’m often motivated by fear, or rather by the need to confront the things that scare me. There’s the vicarious thrill aspect too, of course. The ‘how would I survive?’. And let’s face it, there are some extremely stylish and compelling stories out there. Hannibal is a prime example, as was True Detective — something about these stories attracts storytellers and creative geniuses (designers, editors, actors) perhaps because of the challenge involved. It’s hard to look away from the spectacle, apart from anything else. I’m working on an idea of this kind in Tastes Like Fear, and the story has me adrenalised—the closest I’ve come to the notion of a story that ‘tells itself’ because of the momentum involved in trying to keep pace with a serial killer.

My full interview with Sarah took place following the release of No Other Darkness and you can read it here:



One final one for today. Neil White stopped by when his latest thriller The Domino Killer launched. He took my question and ran with a full guest post:

Neil White:

neilWhy are readers attracted to serial killers?

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

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

So why the attraction?

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

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

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

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

25643638That is so different from the usual human experience. On the whole, people empathise, couldn’t hurt someone just for the pleasure of it. There usually has to be a reason, like hiding behind a war or political cause or because their emotions got the better of them. We can understand those reasons. We cannot understand the selfishness of a serial killer, so we are fascinated by people who behave differently.

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

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

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

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

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

My review of The Domino Killer is here:



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December 23

Penance – Theresa Talbot

PenanceOonagh O’Neil has a challenge on her hands – and her head over a toilet bowl. TV journalist and media darling Oonagh O’Neil faces danger and chaos when an elderly priest dies on the altar of his Glasgow church. His death comes as she is about to expose the shocking truth behind the closure of a Magdalene Institution.

The Church has already tried to suppress the story. Is someone also covering their tracks?

DI Alec Davies is appointed to investigate the priest s death. He and Oonagh go way back. But their friendship counts for nothing when Davies suspicions falls on Oonagh s married lover.

Oonagh now faces the biggest decision of her life. But will it be hers to make?

What secrets lie behind the derelict Institution s doors? What sparked the infamous three-day riot that closed it? And what happened to the three Maggies who vowed to stay friends forever?

From Ireland to Scotland. From life to death.


My thanks to Douglas Skelton for giving me his copy of Penance (which he had won when we attended last month’s Noir in the Bar).  Douglas if you need it back I am afraid Theresa wrote in it…will be fine as long as you know someone called Gordon.


I am going to struggle to do Penance justice in this review. It is a fabulous book, it tells a story partly based around historical events which add a layer of heart-breaking tragedy, it is emotive, often funny and frequently shocking. You have to read it!

Central character Oonagh O’Neil is an investigative journalist and she has been looking into the closure of Glasgow’s Magdalene Institution many years prior to events in the main story. Oonagh believes that a local priest can help her uncover what went on behind the Institutions closed doors but before she can get the full story the priest dies during mass.

Oonagh refuses to give up on her investigation but pursuing the story is putting lives in danger (including Oonagh’s own). A rival journalist is digging the dirt on Oonagh and will stop at nothing to suppress her story if the payoff from other ‘interested parties’ makes it worth his while!

Events in Penance are mainly played out in Glasgow in the year 2000 but at times the story drops back to the late 1950’s and we see how girls may have ended up in the Magdalene Institutions and (more alarmingly) what they endured while they were resident. The small time-shifts are handled really well, do not break the flow of the story, and add depth and context to the main plot which makes the endgame so damn effective.

A tricky read at times, the brutal reality is handled with sensitivity by Theresa Talbot. But she does not shirk away from confronting the unsettling subject matter and Penance is a compelling story as a result.  Most definitely a story I am glad I have read – 5/5 review score was guaranteed when I realized that I was frequently thinking back to Penance when I was meant to be working!


Penance is published by Strident Publishing.

You can buy a copy here:

Theresa Talbot is on Twitter: @Theresa_Talbot







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December 22

The Chimes of Midnight – Robert Shearman

Chimes of MidnightHallowe’en 1938. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring… But something must be stirring. Something hidden in the shadows. Something which kills the servants of an old Edwardian mansion in the most brutal and macabre manner possible. Exactly on the chiming of the hour, every hour, as the grandfather clock ticks on towards midnight. Trapped and afraid, the Doctor and Charley are forced to play detective to murders with no motive, where even the victims don’t stay dead. Time is running out. And time itself might well be the killer..


Last month I was invited to take part in the Booktrail Advent tour. I had to select a Christmas book and confirm the location which would then be plotted onto a map.  It was great fun to be involved in the Advent Tour and even I was surprised that I opted for Wisconsin rather than Scotland for my location (I managed to stop waving the saltire for a day).

The problem I initially faced when considering which book to use as my Christmas themed story was that I just do not read Christmassy stories. I read crime and thrillers and they tend not to be seasonal as a rule.  There are dozens of stories set over winter and at Christmas time but very few actually have a festive feel.  In the end I opted for the brilliant Winter Prey by John Sandford as it captured the bleakness of a dark winter (seasonal if not festive).

To the point though – the story I WANTED to use was actually The Chimes of Midnight.  A Doctor Who audio play first released in 2002 by Big Finish productions.  It starred the 8th Doctor (Paul McGann) and his companion Charley Pollard (India Fisher).

Why did I not use The Chimes of Midnight?  Because there is no actual location specified in the story that The Booktrail could have plotted on the Advent Map!

Why did I want to use The Chimes of Midnight?  It is a fabulous murder mystery set on Halloween when it was the Night Before Christmas…Doctor Who can do these things and it makes sense!

The Doctor and Charley find themselves ‘under the stairs’ in a large stately home.  The Butler, The Cook, the Maid and the Chauffeur are all present and initially do not seem too perturbed by the arrival of two strangers in their midst. Preparations are well underway for Christmas and Mrs Baddeley is making her plum pudding. “Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without plum pudding”

But each time the clock strikes the hour someone dies and the Doctor and Charley realise that they must get to the bottom of the mysterious murders (and the even more mysterious behaviour of the survivors) if they are to survive past midnight.

Chimes of Midnight is a full cast audio drama produced by Big Finish. Each month for well over 10 years Big Finish have released a brand new audio adventure featuring Docto Who. The plays feature past Doctors (Paul McGann, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy) and their companions too.

New companions have been introduced to the audio plays and the stories are deemed canon thanks to recent intervention by Stephen Moffatt! Charley Pollard is the companion for this story. She travelled with Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor for many audio adventures and is a favourite amongst the fans. She is voiced by India Fisher who is possibly better known as the voice of Masterchef on the BBC. To me she will only ever be the Edwardian Adventuress travelling through space and time!

So The Chimes of Midnight – THE best Christmas murder mystery (in space and time).


You can buy The Chimes of Midnight on Download here:




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December 19

Guest Post – Marnie Riches: Serial Heroes

My Serial Heroes feature week draws to a close. For those joining late: I have been asking authors to tell me which ongoing crime/thriller series they enjoy reading (and why).

Thus far we have had Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books – Douglas Skelton‘s selection.  Day Two was Angela Marsons talking about Val McDermid’s Tony Hill books. Helen Giltrow introduced us to the wonderful Slough Houses series by Mick Herron and yesterday Michael J Malone took us to James Lee Burke country.

My final guest for this round of Serial Heroes is Marnie Riches. During 2015 I read both of Marnie’s Georgina McKenzie novels: The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and The Girl Who Broke The Rules these were stunning reads – books I could not put down. I included The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die in my Top Ten Books of 2015 and have been delighted to see that several of my fellow bloggers also included Marnie’s books in their end of year selections. I associate Marnie with slick, gritty thrillers so was keen to see what she enjoyed reading.

Before contacting each of the authors that have kindly contributed to this week’s feature I had tried to guess which books they may select. I knew Douglas would likely select Ed McBain and was reasonably sure Helen would pick Mick Herron, however, I had Marnie as a dead cert for Stieg Larsson…nope!


Marnie Riches:

The end of the year on social media brings with it so many exciting round-ups and Top 10s of the year’s best books. I’ve been lucky enough to feature on a couple this year and am delighted that my George McKenzie series has garnered such support from readers and bloggers. There’s something special about discovering a brand new series, isn’t there? Something magical about a character’s fraught and complicated life, unfolding on the pages…a couple of books in, and often, they feel like old friends, telling their stories just for you.

LeopardAn author who became a great source of inspiration for my own writing is the mighty Jo Nesbo. The Leopard was the first book of the Harry Hole series that I devoured. It was dark. It was brutal. It contained a perfect Scandi-Noir blend of coffee drinking, snow and murder. My imagination caught fire with the introduction of the gruesome Leopold’s Apple as an ingenious and dreadful torture device; a bringer of death by drowning. I had to read on. For me, this is one of the best books in the series, as we discover Harry, hiding away in Hong Kong, trying to smother his demons in a narcotic fug. The switch from Hong Kong’s sweaty high-rises to the snow-bound, claustrophobic Norwegian wilderness and ensuing epic trek to the Congo to catch a killer make this a truly international novel – exactly the sort of thing that I love to read and also to write, of course.

For my part, the real genius in Nesbo’s writing comes not so much from his characters but from his ability to tell a really gripping and often, wildly inventive yarn. Each of his killers despatch their victims in unusual ways, with a variety of different and warped motivations. There are twists and action sequences a-plenty, as we enter the worlds of addicts, ex-servicemen, the Salvation Army, hitmen and even artists. His books from the middle of his series – The Devil’s Star, The Redeemer, The Snowman and The Leopard – contain Nesbo’s best writing, I feel. The plotting is tight. The pace is fast. ­­The books are long and packed with descriptive detail but are neither overblown nor undercooked. They evoke a gritty, realistic, rat’s-eye view of Oslo and its criminal underbelly.­

What I also love about the Harry Hole series is the way that Nesbo weaves thematic complexity into his stories, so that beneath the main storyline of Harry-pursues-killer-and-catches-killer, there are layers addressing corruption within the police force, dysfunctional relationships, sexuality, existential angst of the middle-aged and the nature of addiction.

HeadhuntersCharacters usually constitute the most important element in a series’ success. Harry Hole is a wonderfully tortured individual, continually having to face the perils of addiction, scheming colleagues, sexual temptation from the women who come and go from his life and/or unrequited love for his The One – Rakel. I do prefer a man with a soupcon more sensitivity and an impressive intellect, as well as a propensity for derring-do, however dastardly – hence my enduring love of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter and my compulsion to create the misanthropic art-school drop-out, Van den Bergen. But Hole is indeed a belter, and Nesbo demonstrates beautifully how you must always chase your main character up a tree and then throw rocks at him or her. His subsidiary characters are often interesting too – none more so than the blushing Beate Lonn with her incredible ability to remember every face she has ever seen, diligently watching CCTV footage in the House of Pain. I must confess that my own detective, Marie – Van den Bergen’s IT expert – has, in part, been inspired by Lonn, though I sought to flesh Marie out a good deal more and in different ways. The introverted, soap-dodging Marie, who spends her days tracking the nefarious doings of traffickers and paedophiles online, really comes into her own in my third George McKenzie novel – The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows. Nesbo’s Rakel, though, always feels like a rough sketch of a woman. I wish Nesbo had taken the time to flesh his female characters out more, because they count! It’s only a very small criticism of a series that is consistently impressive, in the main.

Oddly, it is often the standalone novels penned by famous authors that turn out to be their best work. If you want to see Jo Nesbo’s writing at its cut-throat, breakneck-paced, fat-free best, read Headhunters. It’s slender in comparison to the Harry books but boy, is it good. And it’s funny too. Sometimes, even in a crime novel, a bit of funny goes a very long way.

So…sold on Nesbo yet? Well, if you haven’t read the Harry Hole series yet, I recommend you discover it this Christmas. Be careful. It’s addictive!


Jo Nesbo’s books can all be found on his Amazon page:


Marnie 2Marnie Riches has her own Amazon page too: and her personal website can be found at:

You can find Marnie on Twitter @Marnie_Riches or follow her on Facebook.

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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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