September 10

Bloody Scotland – Day 1

20160909_191117The first evening of Bloody Scotland has drawn to a close and already attendees have been treated to some brilliant panels. Laughter rang around Stirling’s Albert Halls as first Stuart MacBride and Caro Ramsay then Mark Billingham and Christopher Brookmyre shared one star reviews, bad use of Doric in a foreign country and Caro and Stuart gave pointers on how to hide a dead body.
black-widowBut there were serious matters to take care of before the panels began. The weekend kicked off with the award of the McIlvanney Prize. Opening speeches from Jenny Brown welcoming everyone to the Golden Lion, the new home of Bloody Scotland for 2016. Then came the Provost of Stirling who pitched the delights of Stirling to the assembled and encouraged everyone to buy a home in Stirling (having previously owned a home in Stirling I can agree this is not the worst place in the world to live).  Then a real treat as Hugh McIlvanney came to the microphone to read from William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw.

Then came the announcement, the winner of the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of 2016: Christopher Brookmyre for Black Widow.

"filth and smut"
“filth and smut”
With the festival formally open it was a dash in the rain from the Golden Lion to the Albert Halls.  A full auditorium for the opening two events and attendees all received a free book courtesy of festival sponsors Bookdonors.  It is just possible that I selected my seat mainly because there was a Lee Child book available – the chance to sit with Douglas Skelton, Mark Leggatt and James Oswald was a delightful bonus.
Two full days of activities left and tickets are still available full details at
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September 7

The Last One – Alexandra Oliva


When Zoo agrees to take part in a new reality TV show, In the Dark, she knows that she will be tested to the limits of her endurance. Beating eleven competitors in a series of survival tasks deep in the forest, living on camera at the extremes of her comfort zone, will be the ultimate challenge before she returns home to start a family.


As the contestants are overcome by hunger, injury and psychological breakdown, the mind games, tricks and hazards to which Zoo is subjected grow dark beyond belief. This isn’t what she signed up for: the deserted towns and gruesome props, the empty loneliness. Is this a game with no end? And what is happening away from the cameras’ gaze? Discovering the truth will be just the beginning…


I received my review copy from the publishers, Michael Joseph, through Netgalley

Imagine a reality tv show where the show and reality blur to the point that a contestant does not know where the show ends and the real world begins. That is The Last One – a game show overlaps with a national disaster and Zoo (our heroine) does not know that the world will never be the same again.

The Last One is cleverly written with narrative jumping from “present day Zoo”, struggling to survive on her own in a remote wilderness to win the prize in a survival game show. Then we are switched to “Zoo first joining the show”, finding her feet through the early challenges, sussing out the other competitors and learning the skills which she will need when the programme send her into the wilderness on her own.

Each of the contestants are defined by their jobs – Zoo, Waitress, Doctor. I really enjoyed the sections of the book where the competition was played out. Alexandra Oliva brilliantly describes the scene, plays out the challenges, shows the character interaction then as an aside includes a paragraph to show how the producers will twist an incident, manipulate the viewing public and give some extra “drama”.  It really emphasised the game show scenes so even when Zoo is learning how to light a fire there is entertainment foremost in the chapter.

But away from the game there is a very serious real life drama unfolding. Early in the story the reader is made aware that something is very wrong. References are made to members of the production team who will not see how a challenge finishes.  A scene is recorded but will never be aired.  People are dying yet Zoo is oblivious, she is playing the game and she is going to follow the rules and she is going to win! No matter what OTT challenges the production team are throwing at her.

The Last One is a tense thriller which takes the familiarity of a game show and asks “what if everything went wrong”.  A really enjoyable read with just the right amount of nasty to keep everything unpredictable.


The Last One is available now in Hardback and digital format and you can order a copy here:

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September 5

Matching The Evidence (Major Crimes Vol 2) – Graham Smith

Matching the EvidenceCarlisle United are playing Millwall and the Major Crimes Team are assigned to crowd control as punishment for their renegade ways. Typically, DI Harry Evans has other ideas and tries to thwart the local firm’s plans to teach Millwall’s notorious Bushwhackers an unforgettable lesson.
Meanwhile an undercover cop is travelling north with some of the Millwall contingent. His mission is to identify the ringleaders and gather evidence against them.
Three illegal immigrants have been transported to Carlisle and are about to meet their new employers.
Nothing is as it seems for Evans and his Major Crimes Team as they battle to avoid a bloodbath while also uncovering a far more heinous crime.

My thanks to Graham, Caffeine Nights and the indefatigable Noelle Holten for the chance to join the blog tour.


Last summer I reviewed the first volume of Graham Smith’s Major Crimes Team (Lines of Enquiry) and despite not being a fan of short stories I found that I liked that collection which were bound by a common thread.  Lead character Harry Evans had a tough time of it in that book and it seems that life is not getting easier from him.

Between Major Crimes volumes 1 and 2 there was Graham’s Snatched From Home events from Snatched and Lines of Enquiry are mentioned in Matching the Evidence and some spoilers will present themselves for those who plan to read all three books. However, Matching the Evidence can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone.

The bloody football and the clever title may have been a clue that there is a football theme to Matching the Evidence. A North vs South head to head with notorious Millwall fans heading to Carlisle intent on causing a ruckus. As punishment for events that took place prior to MtE Harry Evans and his team are roped into duty to thwart any trouble. With his soon-to-be replacement shadowing his investigations Harry has his work cut out to identify and locate the local football socials who feel they need to show their Southern counterparts that North is better than South.

Away from the football we read of three illegal immigrants who have arrived in England for new employment opportunities.  This was the element of the story I particularly enjoyed, their journey and employment prospects made for concerning reading and I loved how Graham Smith handled their predicament and reflected their excitement at a fresh start in a new country.

Two very different stories in one nicely worked book.


Matching the Evidence is published by Caffeine Nights and can be ordered here:



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September 2

GJ Minett (The Hidden Legacy) – My Writing Commandments

The Hidden Legacy has been gathering rave reviews since it first released as an e-book earlier this year.  The paperback edition released on 25th August and is now finding its way into the hands of many new readers.

I am delighted to welcome the author of The Hidden Legacy, GJ Minett, to the blog today to share his 5 writing commandments.


GrahamFive Writing Commandments I Live By

Here we go. In no particular order, and with no guarantees that I manage to live up to any of them:


This used not to be a problem. For years I resisted the siren call of Facebook and tweets were something I welcomed through the bedroom window. Nothing … NOTHING was going to tempt me to goo over pictures of puppies and kittens or start taking an interest in what someone had for breakfast. Then I got a book deal. First meeting with my editor, I told him confidently: I don’t do social media. His response: you do now.

Now I find it desperately difficult to ignore it. I can be approaching the most dramatic moment in the chapter and it will suddenly occur to me that I haven’t checked for 20 minutes to see whether so-and-so has responded to my last tweet or how many places my novel has risen or fallen in the Amazon rankings.

TURN IT OFF. Turn off the notifications, the beep alerts, the silly little pings that whisper insidiously in your ear that if you don’t check now, you’ll miss out on something momentous. If you don’t, you’ll never get anything done.


  1. Tell a story

People read novels for a variety of reasons. Not many though, I would hazard a guess, will have picked up your novel because they want to have a personalised agenda thrust down their throat. Very few will be expecting to dive into a dictionary to look up every fifth word because you’re so keen to demonstrate the extent and complexity of your vocabulary. Just tell the story and avoid trying to be too clever.

The Hidden Legacy

  1. Give them characters they can believe in

Not only that, make them characters they will care about. It’s only a personal preference but I tend to start with a character rather than a detailed plot. I carry them around with me in my head for a month or two, developing them while I exercise, asking myself how they would react to a news item on TV. I draw up checklists of what they eat, read, wear for different occasions and at different times of the year, what their guilty secrets and deepest fears might be. Then, once I have them clearly defined in my head, I start thinking about the situation I want to put them in and the dilemma or crisis I want them to confront because without conflict of some sort there is no real story.


  1. Appeal to the senses

Ellie, one of my fellow workshop students on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, was an invaluable help to me whenever I started to ‘plot-trot’. She would send work back to me complaining that she felt excluded from what I was writing. She felt like a detached observer, denied the opportunity to empathise as much as she would have liked, because I wasn’t giving her enough to get hold of. “Put me in the scene,” she would implore me. “What can I see? What can I smell, hear around me? Let me touch things.” I needed frequent reminders and was grateful for them. The scene in The Hidden Legacy when Ellen first visits the cottage has attracted a certain amount of favourable comment and a lot of that is down to the advice I received. Bring the senses into play and include your reader at every opportunity.


  1. Trust your instincts, but …

There must be thousands of novels I’ve considered and not written. Ideas keep popping into my head and out again. Sometimes though an idea comes back and that’s usually a sign for me that it has legs, as they say. We might be able to go somewhere with it.

By and large I trust my instincts about whether it’s the right story and also regarding the quality of what I’m producing. I’m far from infallible though and it’s at times like this that you need the right people around you.

A while ago I dashed off a second book to follow on the heels of The Hidden Legacy. I persuaded myself it was good enough. It wasn’t … and fortunately my agent, Peter Buckman, told me to put it in a drawer, chalk it up to experience and write a better one.

And when I completed Lie In Wait, even though it had sneaked past this redoubtable gatekeeper, I received several pages of notes from my editor, Joel Richardson, with suggestions as to things I ‘might like to consider’. It’s not exactly a different book now but it is a much better one.

So … 5 commandments that work for me. I hope they do the same for you.


The Hidden Legacy is available in paperback and digital formats and can be ordered here:

Lie in Wait released on Kindle on 25th August 2016 and can be ordered by clicking through on this link:

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September 1

Blackout – Ragnar Jonasson

BlackoutOn the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance.

Ari Thor Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjordur struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies… Dark, terrifying and complex, Blackout is an exceptional, atmospheric thriller from one of Iceland s finest crime writers.

With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my review copy.


The third release in the Dark Iceland series: Blackout nestles between Snowblind and Nightblind.

Having read Nightblind (which follows Blackout) relatively recently I knew how a couple of the plot threads in in Blackout were going to be resolved. This slightly reduced the impact of one of the twists as I was watching for the hints of what was to come. But watching for clues actually gave me a greater appreciation of the  delightful story crafting that is on show once again from Ragnar Jonasson!

The story opens with the discovery of a body, someone has been brutally murdered and the Siglufjordur police are required to investigate. The victim is a contractor staying in the area to work on construction of a tunnel – this means he is not a local and the lack of the Siglufjordur gossip will mean a more thorough investigation will be required. This is where I feel Ragnar Jonasson excels, he can compile a whodunnit (and a whydunnit) like an old master. With the victim discovered Jonasson can take the reader on a journey of slow discovery. You know that while you read you are being taken ever closer to the point you learn the name of the killer. But before enlightenment comes the careful and clever reveals: clues, red herrings and side plots wonderfully interwoven as the author lays out the secret lives of his characters for our entertainment.

Of the three books Blackout has replaced Snowblind as my favourite Ari Thor novel. This story takes a much darker tone, the characters are dealing with harsher events, they seem to have more troubled backgrounds. Even the main players do not appear to be coping so well with daily life. The character angst gives the whole book a more tense and nervous feel which dramatically differentiated it from Snowblind which I still believe had quite a gentle narrative feel.

I did think that Ari Thor features less in this book than in past adventures with a fair bit of focus diverted towards the journalist Isrun. She plays a key role in Blackout and I am hoping she may return in more books in the future (or the past) as I really enjoyed her scenes. The investigative reporter added a different dynamic to Blackout and helped to contribute to the different feel of this book to the previous two.

One final word – on the words.  Blackout is translated by Quentin Bates who very much deserves the plaudits too, my enjoyment of the Dark Iceland stories is partly due to the fact that they are so very readable.

I make no secret of the fact I am a fan of the Dark Iceland books and Blackout only reaffirms my belief that Ragnar Jonasson is a wonderful teller of tales. The wait for the next book is always a frustrating period (but always worth the wait). If you are not reading these books – you really should be!


Blackout is published by Orenda Books and available now in paperback and digital format. You can order a copy here:

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