June 30

In Conversation: Ava Marsh & Marnie Riches

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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June 29

Outside Looking In – Michael Wood

Outside Looking In2When elderly George Rainsford goes to investigate a suspicious noise one night, the last thing he expects to find is a bloodbath. A man has been killed and a woman brutally beaten, left for dead.

The victims are Lois Craven and Kevin Hardaker – both married, but not to each other. Their spouses swear they knew nothing of the affair and, besides, they both have alibis for the attack. With nothing else to link the victims, the investigation hits a dead end.

The pressure is on for investigating officer, DCI Matilda Darke: there’s a violent killer on the loose, and it looks like her team members are the new targets. With no leads and no suspects, it’s going to take all Matilda’s wits to catch him, before he strikes again.


I had Outside Looking In ordered through the Kindle Store several weeks before release.  I am seldom this organised, however, as I had really enjoyed DCI Matilda Darke’s debut appearance in For Reasons Unknown I was keen for more.

A shocking opening chapter sees one man dead and a woman badly beaten and clinging to life. A couple who had been seeking a little solitude for a romantic extra-marital liaison have been subjected to a vicious attack. Matilda Darke is heading up the investigation, resources are stretched due to staff cut-backs and other personnel covering a spate of violent burglaries.

Matilda is still a vulnerable lead character and this makes the challenges she faces all the more fascinating to read. The anniversary of her husband’s death is approaching, an old-unsolved case of a missing child still hangs over her head (and is being raked up in the press by the child’s distraught family) and events from For Reasons Unknown are still fresh in her mind.  NB: I would recommend reading For Reasons Unknown before starting Outside Looking In.  Not strictly necessary but there are continuing plot threads which returning readers will recognise (new readers will encounter spoilers) so it’s best to read them in order.

I do enjoy a ‘proper’ detective story. The cops, the investigation, the hunt for a criminal and those pesky red herrings that will throw me off track. All present and correct here and I spent a few happy evenings picking my way through Outside Looking In. Michael Wood has done a great job of quickly establishing a cast of characters I want to read about. There are unresolved issues which I hope are not wrapped up too soon as I like there being a few demons hanging over Matilda. Yet I am also enjoying watching her making her slow recovery from the issues which have haunted her.

I found that Outside Looking In was quite dark in places, I don’t remember that being the case with For Reasons Unknown, but this was a pleasant surprise – it fitted the mood of the reader and I like when books are a bit more edgy when I read them.

So to recap…characters I like, unexpectedly dark, good continuity from the first novel and a story which kept me reading.  It’s what I look for in a book. Good job Mr Wood, one happy reader here.


Outside Looking In is published by Killer Reads and is available now. You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outside-Looking-compelling-shocking-Matilda-ebook/dp/B01BS9XGOS?ie=UTF8&qid=1467152167&ref_=la_B015CWYVFA_1_2&s=digital-text&sr=1-2

Outside Looking in Tour

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June 20

Where Roses Never Die – Gunnar Staalesen

Where Roses Never Die cover Vis copy 2September 1977. Mette Misvaer, a three-year-old girl disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordas is devastated, but their enquiries and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found.

Almost 25 years later, as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette’s mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge

My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my review copy


I first encountered Gunnar Staalesen’s books last year when I read We Shall Inherit The Wind. I had enjoyed that immensely and was keen to read more about Varg Veum, so when the opportunity to join the Where Roses Never Die blog tour came along I jumped at the chance.

As detailed above, Where Roses Never Die is an investigation into an abducted child – almost 25 years ago a three year old girl (Mette) vanished from the sandpit outside her house.  Spin forward to the early days of the new millennium and Mette’s mother contacts Varg Veum asking if he can investigate the disappearance of her daughter before the statue of limitations expires.

Mette and her family lived in a very small suburban community and the residents of the neighbouring houses are going to provide the best possible leads for Veum to start. It quickly becomes obvious that there are long held secrets to be uncovered and challenged.  Veum will have his work cut out to uncover the half-truths, shake down the cobwebs of memory and refute the lies within the community (as it appears they all have reason to withhold information).

In addition to the historic disappearance of young Mette, the reader is aware that while Varg Veum has a “real time” problem to contend with too.  An armed robbery in a jewellers shop appears to have a chance connection with Mette’s disappearance. This will cause problems when a PI comes a calling and faces the possibility of treading on the toes of an ongoing police investigation – especially when that PI is asking about a case the police did not solve many years earlier.  Throw in a couple of heavy-duty thugs who seem intent to clip Veum’s wings and end his investigations permanently and we have an unexpected threat hanging over our hero’s head.

This felt like a proper detective story. The mystery of a missing child was presented.  No clues over where she may have gone (she is likely to be dead) and we have a harrowing read for any parent.  A seemingly impossible challenge for a PI who is facing his own personal demons – a battle against the bottle which is brilliantly depicted by the author.   The need for me to know what happened to Mette kicked in – would Veum be able to close out a cold case? Is there even the slightest chance that this will have a happy ending?  The ‘need to know’ factor keeps me reading – it’s great when it grabs hold of me early in a book.

Where Roses Never Die was read in a single lazy day. For once I was able to sit back and enjoy a book from cover to cover with minimal interruptions, the story flowed around me and I was able to lose myself in the plot. Following Varg Veum as he relentlessly chased down leads and unpicked lies was a very pleasant journey. Plaudits also must go to Don Bartlett who has done a splendid job translating Staalsesen’s original work and bringing us such a readable volume.

I am becoming a bit of a fan of Mr Staalesen’s books and Varg Veum is welcome to return any time he likes. I feel that I have a lot of catching up to do and I cannot wait to get started.

Roses Never Die Blog tour

Where Roses Never Die is available in paperback and digital formats and can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Where-Roses-Never-Varg-Veum/dp/1910633097/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466359151&sr=8-1&keywords=where+roses+never+die

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June 16

Willow Walk – SJI Holliday

Willow WalkWhen the past catches up, do you run and hide or stand and fight? When a woman is brutally attacked on a lonely country road by an escaped inmate from a nearby psychiatric hospital, Sergeant Davie Gray must track him down before he strikes again. But Gray is already facing a series of deaths connected to legal highs and a local fairground, as well as dealing with his girlfriend Marie’s bizarre behaviour.

As Gray investigates the crimes, he suspects a horrifying link between Marie and the man on the run – but how can he confront her when she’s pushing him away?

As a terrified Marie is pulled back into a violent past she thought she’d escaped, she makes an irrevocable decision. And when events come to a head at a house party on Willow Walk, can Gray piece together the puzzle in time to stop the sleepy town of Banktoun being rocked by tragedy once more?


My thanks to SJI Holliday and Black & White Publishing for my treasured review copy.

I don’t normally mention book covers, however, before I start talking about Willow Walk I just need to say – I LOVE THE COVER. Your eyes will be drawn to Willow Walk when you see it in the wild – get closer to it and pick up the book. Once it is in  your hand treat yourself and buy a copy, it is a brilliantly dark story. A chilling read.

In Black Wood SJI Holliday introduced us to Banktoun, a sleepy Scottish town with its fair share of secrets. Willow Walk sees us returning to Banktoun and there is also a welcome return for the popular character Sergeant Davie Gray. Both Black Wood and Willow Walk can be read as stand alone novels, Davie features in both but is not the lead character in either. For returning readers there are some familiar faces but these are treats to reward you on your second visit to Banktoun, Willow Walk is a brand new adventure.

The story opens in the most disturbing of circumstances – the aftermath of a party and our main character, Marie, wakes to find herself surrounded by very still (too still) partygoers. Something has happened and she has to get away. But for Marie getting away in a small town like Banktoun is going to be a problem because someone is watching. Someone that knows her better than anyone else. Someone that isn’t meant to be here any longer so how can he possibly be back? She would know. Wouldn’t she?

Marie’s boyfriend, Davie Gray, is caught up in an investigation involving deaths from legal highs. He is consulting with police from Edinburgh and his time is stretched. He also has to contend with the problems that come from having the fairground in town.  Davie is struggling to keep on top of his job and it doesn’t help that Marie is acting strangely.

Marie is struggling to keep up the pretence that all is well.  She stumbles from home to work and is on constant alert. Someone is sending her letters – a voice from the past. Someone that should not be able to speak with her.  The problem is that the letters are arriving with alarming frequency, but how does the sender even know her address? Marie’s story is the darkest of love stories and the author spins the tale magnificently. It is creepy and it is tense. I got so caught up in it that I only looked up to check that there was no one lurking in the dark corners of the room.

I love the Banktoun books. Susi Holliday captures the essence of characters so well that everyone seems real to me.  Even the regulars sitting at the bar in the pub carry more authenticity than some of the key characters in other stories I have read. The realism of the people and the town make Willow Walk sing, it becomes a story you can immerse yourself in.

Willow Walk is a 5* read. It’s the middle book of the Banktoun Trilogy and I cannot wait for the final instalment.

Willow Walk blog tour



Willow Walk is published by Black & White Publishing and is available in paperback and digital formats. You can order copies here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Willow-Walk-Banktoun-Trilogy-Holliday/dp/1785300210/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466036508&sr=8-1&keywords=willow+walk




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June 16

Exposure – Ava Marsh

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

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

But once no different from you or I.

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

This is her story.


My thanks to Sophie at Penguin/Random House for my review copy


Ava Marsh wrote my favourite book of last year: Untouchable. It was dark, tense, frequently very graphic and provided insightful overview into the lives of high class escorts. It was brilliant.

I am extremely fortunate to have had the chance to read Exposure, Ava’s new novel, which is released today. It pleases me greatly to be able to say Exposure was another cracking read – I am going to spend another 12 months telling people they should be reading Ava Marsh’s books.

In Exposure we meet Kitty Sweet (or Leanne to use her real name). Kitty/Leanne is in prison for double murder. Having shunned all publicity at the time of her trial she agrees to write about her life as part of a therapy process. We get to discover her story, in her own words, as she talks about her introduction to the world of glamour modelling and then a move into porn.

If you read Untouchable then you will know that Ava Marsh does not sugar-coat life for her characters. Kitty learns the hard way that there is nothing glamourous about the life of a pornstar. Setting boundaries never lasts, there is always a demand for more and when you want to quit – well all I can say is that Kitty’s attempt to establish a “normal” life brought home the true extent of the life she had embraced. Powerful scenes and wonderfully handled by the author.

I loved Exposure. It’s not going to be for everyone as there are frank and graphic descriptions of porn shoots. But if you go into the story knowing it tackles real life issues and avoids sensationalising porn or making it seem that Kitty is living a 24/7 glamourous existence then you will get the best of Exposure.

This is a “must read” book. A murder mystery, the story of a life with a constant undercurrent of tragedy, the story of a fighter or of a girl lost. And just at the end one final twist which really challenged how I had originally viewed the story. So good…


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

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June 15

Ava Marsh Q&A – Exposure

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we ask if there is a new project underway?

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

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

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


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

Here is the description:

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

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

But once no different from you or I.

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

This is her story.




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June 13

Streets of Darkness – A. A. Dhand

Streets of DarknessThe sky over Bradford is heavy with foreboding. It always is. But this morning it has reason to be – this morning a body has been found. And it’s not just any body.

Detective Harry Virdee should be at home with his wife. Impending fatherhood should be all he can think about but he’s been suspended from work just as the biggest case of the year lands on what would have been his desk. He can’t keep himself away.

Determined to restore his reputation, Harry is obliged to take to the shadows in search of notorious ex-convict and prime suspect, Lucas Dwight. But as the motivations of the murder threaten to tip an already unstable city into riotous anarchy, Harry finds his preconceptions turned on their head as he discovers what it’s like to be on the other side of the law…


My thanks to Ben at Transworld for my review copy.

Detective Harry Virdee is an angry man.  His temper has landed him a suspension from the police and his timing is terrible as one of the most important cases that he could ever have handled is being taken away from him.

A prominent politician has been murdered, all the evidence points towards it being a racially motivated attack by the BNP and Bradford, a city with a history of racial tensions, becomes a powder-keg of tension.  The police are keen to keep events under wraps but someone has other ideas – there are factions scrabbling for supremacy of the criminal underworld and they will use any means possible to exploit weakness and cause chaos.

Harry Virdee is given free run by his boss to do whatever it takes to track down and capture the prime suspect in the murder (Lucas Dwight).  But Lucas and Harry have a history and bringing in his former nemesis is not going to be easy.

Streets of Darkness is a stunning debut. A A Dhand lights the blue touch-paper from the first chapter and the action seems relentless. There are so many strong and memorable characters in this story, all vying for attention, all destined to clash at some point and the city of Bradford is their arena. This is the story you will start and not want to put down.

As the star of the show Harry Virdee is a strong lead character, seemingly haunted and driven by an incident in his past (see the anger issues).  His wife, Saima, is heavily pregnant and Harry is determined not to cause her undue worry…this is going to be tricky.  Saima is equally determined as her husband and she was a brilliant contrast to Harry, their interchanges over baby names were wonderful…great moments of fun to lighten the mounting tension.

The bad guys are BAD. No spoilers but who would have thought a brown paper bag could contain something so familiar yet so terrifying to a captive prisoner!

We should be hearing a lot about Streets of Darkness in the coming months as it is a debut of some note.  An absolute cert for a 5/5 review score, I tore through it and felt drained at the end. There is so much more I want to know about Harry and his family, it cannot come soon enough.



Streets of Darkness is published by Bantam Press on 16 June and is available to order here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Streets-Darkness-Detective-Harry-Virdee/dp/0593076648/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465852614&sr=1-1&keywords=streets+of+darkness

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June 12

Book Chains – David Young (1st Link)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will there be a follow-up to Stasi Child?

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

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

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

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

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

Some quick fire questions:

  • What was the last book you read?

Fellow Bonnier Zaffre author Simon Booker’s Without Trace.

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

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

  • Favourite film?

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

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

Any featuring the original Orange Juice line-up

  • Drink of choice?

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

  • Sandy Beaches/City Break or Great Outdoors holiday?

Sandy Beaches – especially the Greek islands.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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June 11

My Girl – Jack Jordan

My Girl 2Paige Dawson: the mother of a murdered child and wife to a dead man.

She has nothing left to live for… until she finds her husband’s handgun hidden in their house.

Why did Ryan need a gun? What did he know about their daughter’s death?

Desperate for the truth, Paige begins to unearth her husband’s secrets.

But she has no idea who she is up against, or that her life isn’t hers to gamble – she belongs to me.


My thanks to Jack for my review copy and for the chance to host a leg of the My Girl blog tour.


Normally I open reviews by sketching an outline of the story, perhaps highlighting central themes or positioning the type of story I have read. Yet I find that My Girl is posing a problem – I don’t want to spoil anything as I am going to implore you to read it and for the full impact of Mr Jordan’s gobsmacking story you *must* avoid spoilers!

Okay lets try this…

Paige is in a spiral of despair. Her daughter was murdered, her husband has taken his own life and Paige has a drink and drugs dependency. The story follows Paige and we watch her life falling apart around her, she alienates her in-laws, runs from the help that her father tries to find for her and is pushing away her brother when he tries to get her to moderate her behaviour.

As I read about Paige I swung between pity for her situation and frustration that she just could not seem to find the strength she seemed to need to start to fight back and try to kick her addictions. Many of her worst moments are recounted in flashback – Paige waking with a hangover to realise (or be told) what she had been doing, I really enjoyed how Jack Jordan mixed up the worst of the incidents, watching them unfold ‘real time’ in some chapters then describing events in flashback in the next.

Needless to say that I did not see Paige’s story turning out well for her.  Just how horrifically things go wrong totally caught me off guard. Pity gave way to horror. My reading speed (which was already pretty speedy) picked up pace and I flew through My Girl. Not knowing how events would turn out was just not an option – this was compelling reading.

This is a book for the reader that likes their stories to have a dark and twisted edge. I started My Girl knowing only that a couple of my most trusted fellow bloggers had loved it. I am now adding my voice to their praise – this is a cracking story.


My Girl is released on 4 July 2016 and you can order your copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Girl-Jack-Jordan-ebook/dp/B01F7U2SVG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1465605107&sr=1-1&keywords=jack+jordan


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June 9

Dear Amy – Helen Callaghan

Dear AmyMargot Lewis is the agony aunt for The Cambridge Enquirer. Her advice column, Dear Amy, gets all kinds of letters – but none like the one she’s just received:

Dear Amy,
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery

Bethan Avery has been missing for years. This is surely some cruel hoax. But, as more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. How is this happening? Answering this question will cost Margot everything . . .


My thanks to Michael Joseph for my review copy which I received through Netgalley

Dear Amy opens with Katie Browne packing to run away from home. She has had enough of life with her mum (and her mum’s new partner) so Katie is setting off to go to her father’s house. But as she makes her way through the darkening streets she finds there are worse things than being unhappy at home.

Katie doesn’t make it to her father’s house.

Margot is a teacher who also runs a feature column (entitled Dear Amy) for the local Cambridge newspaper. She provides guidance and advice on health and relationship issues, suggests shelters for victims of domestic abuse and offers a reliable and confidential option for those in need who feel that they have no one else to turn to.

Margot collects her Dear Amy mail from the newspaper offices. She finds a letter from a young girl who is claiming to have been abducted and that she is being held captive against her will. But the letter states that the girl is called Bethan Avery – a girl who disappeared almost 20 years earlier.  How can Margot be receiving letters from a girl who has been missing for so many years?  How is a kidnap victim able to send a letter? And why has she suddenly decided to write to Margot? I HAD to know so I HAD to keep reading.

Taking the letters to the police Margot finds herself caught up in a missing person investigation. Although Bethan has been missing for 2 decades there is a small ‘cold case’ team who believe that there may be links between Bethan’s disappearance and the recent disappearance of young Katie Browne.

Dear Amy falls into the vulnerable narrator category. Margot, despite enjoying success through her Dear Amy column and being a popular teacher (rare), has a few issues to face. She is negotiating the final stages of a divorce settlement with her (soon to be ex) husband and as the story unfolds we learn that Margot has managed to overcome some troubled teenage years.  I particularly enjoyed Helen Callaghan’s skilful drip feed of important elements from Margot’s background and I enjoyed learning how she managed to overcome these issues and face them down.

Margot’s story and her bid to help Bethan (and possibly Katie) took some unexpected twists and turns. I had lots of fun reading Dear Amy, it certainly did not follow a path I was expecting  and I really enjoyed how Helen Callaghan was able to draw me in to the story  and keep me hooked.  Definitely one to watch out for and BEWARE SPOILERS.


Dear Amy is published by Michael Joseph on 16 June 2016 and can be ordered here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0718183754?keywords=dear%20amy&qid=1458165185&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_har_1&sr=8-1


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