January 8

Hellbound Blog Tour – David McCaffrey Q&A

Hellbound Blog Tour

As part of the Hellbound Blog Tour I am delighted to be able to welcome David McCaffrey to Grab This Book.

David very kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions surrounding his debut novel, Hellbound, and has also given me an insight into his own reading preferences.

As I had the opportunity, I also tried to squeeze a little extra information from him regarding what may come next for the Hellbound cast – there is good news on that front as you will see…

So with my profound thanks to David I opened with an ‘easy’ one:

 

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

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.”

 

I am keen to avoid spoilers, however, within Hellbound a group called The Brethren feature on occasion. I loved the premise of The Brethren is there any chance they may feature in a subsequent title?

Absolutely!! I am currently working on a Hellbound novella titled ‘In Extremis’ which deals with the birth of The Brethren and how their journey began utilising a famous character from history (alluded to at the end of Hellbound!!). They initially see themselves as altruistic, but as history has often illustrated, our most famous despots and totalitarian literary creations often start believing they’re righteous in their quest. As to whether they are right or wrong, that’s for the reader to decide!

 

Joe O’Connell is the primary character within Hellbound (other than Stark). Do you see Joe’s Story as having reached a natural conclusion or would you consider bringing him back?

I have a beat sheet for a follow up to Hellbound, and Joe is integral to the plot but not the main character. You rightly point out that his story does reach a natural end point, but as to whether he still has a part to play, that would be telling!

 

Within the story O’Connell is writing a book which reflects the story of Stark without sensationalising his crimes. I felt that Hellbound also took this approach, murders are detailed but not in a tone which may convey ‘schlock horror’ was this an intentional symmetry?

It was. When writing it, I had two rules I made integral to his character. One, he couldn’t do anything sexually violent towards women (or men for that matter) and two, he couldn’t harm children in anyway. My justification for this was simple; as odious and evil a character as I made him, if he broke either of those two rules then the reader would never be able to sympathise with him, no matter the extent of his suffering. At the end I don’t expect the audience to like him, as I made him intensely dislikeable on purpose, but I made him dislikeable within the parameters of his own morality. By doing this, readers can hopefully sympathise with his plight and not feel guilty for feeling sorry for such an evil individual. Because ultimately, Obadiah’s journey throughout Hellbound does suck ever so slightly.

 

Stark’s crimes were split between Ireland and the US? Have you visited the areas depicted (or how did you come to select the regions you used)?

I have been to both countries (my Dad’s family are from Kerry)…I love Ireland and would live there one day if circumstances allow. The reason I chose Ireland for the supermax, ADX Absolom, was because The Blasket Islands are extremely desolate (Ryan’s Daughter was filmed there) and it seemed a haunting and lonely place to build a prison with only Artic Terns for company. I also wanted to play a little with convention and set it somewhere other than the United States. Having Obadiah emigrate there and ultimately return home seemed to lend the narrative a slightly cyclic feel in regards to his rationale for choosing to his victims.

 

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

I’m pretty eclectic when it comes to reading! I enjoy thrillers, the occasional horror story, biographies, science fiction. I recently read I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes which is one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time. John Grisham, Steve Alten, George R. R. Martin, Stephen King are probably my all-time favourite authors, but I do enjoy Stephen Leather’s Jack Nightingale books and anything by Lee Child (then again, doesn’t most of the world!!). Two of the most exciting books I recently read were The Willow Tree by Bekki Pate and The Element Order by P.S Ferns, two fellow authors whom I know and who have crafted really stunning debut novels…worth checking out!

 

When do you find time to write?

Usually on a night when my children have gone to bed. I’ll spend an hour or so most days at the computer, but often I’ll have a random idea or thought about adding to a chapter and say to Kelly ‘I’m just going to write this up before I forget’ and disappear for a few hours!

 

What comes next for David McCaffrey?

I have the Hellbound prequel drafted and am in the process of editing, I have two beat sheets completed; one for a Hellbound sequel and one for an completely unrelated title about a deadly infection with the working title ‘Pathogenicity’ (working in Infection Control and the currently Ebola concerns, it now seems appropriate!!). I have a few other ideas floating about in drafts that I’m always toying with. At the moment I’m just so pleased people seem to be enjoying Hellbound! I always knew it was a hard sell, but that if people gave it a chance they’ll find it’s something a little different and not quite what they expect…which seems to be the case!!!

 

My thanks to David and to Crime Book Club (@crimebookclub).

The tour concludes tomorrow (Jan 10th) at tigerlilybooks76@blogspot.com

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January 4

All You Need Is Rock – Mark Beech

All you need is rockTHE BEST COLUMNS WRITTEN OVER A DECADE

The interviews include Sting, Steve Miller, Brian Eno, Adam Ant, Steve Van Zandt, Mary Wilson and Kevin Rowland.
Mark Beech recounts how he rubbed shoulders with Amy Winehouse and Kanye West backstage and at secret gigs.

There’s a constant reassessing of reputations as stars’ personal lives and music collide. The passing of Winehouse, Michael Jackson and more lead to candid commentaries on what their legacy will be, spiced up with inside knowledge, humour and Beech’s knowledge of music as evidenced in his previously released name encyclopedias.

Stars getting the most attention include the Beatles, Elvis Presley, U2, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin and the Arctic Monkeys.

Beech was among the first to publish reviews from the Led Zeppelin reunion concert at the O2 in London in 2007 (where more than a million people applied for only 20,000 tickets). He provides front-seat accounts of the very first show at the start of tours by the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Prince, the Police and (for comic contrast) the Spice Girls.

About the Author

Mark Beech has spent a decade as the rock critic for Bloomberg.

The London-based arts and culture editor also includes dispatches from Madison Square Garden, Tennessee, Vancouver and Glastonbury.

He has been a regular commentator on U.K. television channels, a contributing editor to Dante magazine and a journalist for ITN, The Sunday Times and others.

 

My thanks to Emma at Busy Bee for my review copy

 

If you have Christmas vouchers left and have been saving them for something which will give you a break from the reading norm then I highly recommend All You Need Is Rock.

This book is an absolute treat for music lovers and I mean proper music – not the manufactured faces that seem to have been dominating the charts these last few years. Mark Beech has travelled the world and seen some of the greatest musicians and bands; in All You Need Is Rock he compiles a collection of his best articles for our entertainment.

I found reviewing this book much more tricky than I had initially anticipated. This was partly because I am not a big fan of short stories so I cannot just sit and read my way through a collection of articles or unconnected stories (I need to break it up over a number of reading sessions). The main problem that I faced, however, was that I mentioned to a family member that I was reading ‘this great book about loads of rock stars written by a guy who has seen all the Greats’ – my review copy then vanished to said family member’s house for a few weeks before I could recover it…I did get frequent updates as to how much it was being enjoyed though!

My personal inability to put together a timely review should not detract from the quality entertainment offered within All You Need Is Rock. These articles represent the highs of a decade of music journalism – there are interviews and reviews to reflect upon and irrespective of your musical preferences there will be fascinating articles that will command your attention.

Beech writes with a humour which flows through his articles. I did not feel at any time that I was being spun a line about what I should and should not enjoy, there was no agenda to promote any particular artist and the author’s love of music and the artists he was covering shone through on many occasions.

When I first picked up my copy and flicked to the index I was delighted to see names such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Police jumping out at me. Also covered are Prince, Springsteen and U2 (I was less excited by those) and also named were Kanye, Lady Gaga and Artic Monkey – all of whom I could pass in the street and have no idea who they were. But what a range of music is covered in just those 9 names and I haven’t yet mentioned the Glasto section, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or (eek) The Spice Girls.

There are many highlights to be found within All You Need Is Rock, however, I suspect that each reader will have their own personal highlight. For me the section leading into Sting and The Police summed up why I enjoyed this book so much. Mark Beech confesses from the outset that he is a Sting fan and that he (Mark) feels that Sting gets a rough deal in the press – Mark seeks to put that right. I liked that.

This book provides insight, discussion and anecdotes. It is a book you can pick up and put down, share with friends and return to over and over again. Now that I have recovered my copy it will sit happy (and in easy reach) on my bookshelves.

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January 4

Angel of Death – Ben Cheetham

Angel of Death
Angel of Death

A disillusioned detective with nothing left to lose.

Catching criminals is all DI Jim Monahan has ever been good at. Just ask his ex-wife. Now he’s staring down the barrel of a lonely retirement. Worse still, he’s no longer sure he believes in the law he’s spent his life upholding. Then comes a call that will test what remains of his belief to its limits and beyond…

 

A shadowy ring of powerful people who’ll do anything to protect a depraved secret.

In Sheffield a soon-to-be bankrupt businessman has gone on a murderous rampage against his own family. The man and his wife lie dead in their burning mansion. Their son and daughter are found outside, riddled with shotgun pellets, barely alive. It seems like an open-and-shut case. But the charred ruins of the house reveal evidence of a second sickening crime – one involving a young girl who went missing fifteen years earlier…

A damaged prostitute hell bent on revenge.

In Middlesbrough a woman stares down at a violent punter she’s just shot dead. Her entire life Angel has been abused by those who claimed to love her. Now she’s finally had enough. It’s time to stop running. It’s time to start fighting back. She’s going to make them pay for what they did to her. With the murdered man’s gun in her handbag, she heads south on her deadly mission. And as the bodies begin to pile up, only one thing is certain – life will never be the same for anyone caught in the path of the ‘Angel of Death’.

 

This review was prepared for BookAddictShaun and appears on his site www.bookaddictshaun.co.uk

Angel of Death explores what happens when people in different walks of life reach the end of their tether. A policeman, his marriage over, facing retirement and no longer believing the law can fully extend justice where it may be required. A prostitute, sick of her dependency upon drugs, of being used and abused by clients and of her perpetual cycle of misery. A businessman who has a dark secret and is facing bankruptcy who decides to end it all.

The action kicks off right from the start of the story and Ben Cheetham does a great job of keeping the pace flowing. We follow Angel, a prostitute with a drug dependency. She is concerned that a girl, new to the streets, may have taken a potentially dangerous client to a remote part of town. Angel persuades one of her clients to try to find the girl before she comes to harm, however, she arrives too late to save the girl from receiving a beating. In an act of retribution Angel kills the girl’s client before taking the injured girl to hospital. From this point on Angel is on course to taking a degree of control back in her life.

While Angel is struggling to regain some independence the story switches to a struggling businessman who has decided that suicide is the only option he has left. Before he can end his own life he has a few loose ends to tie up first – the resultant fall out comes to Angel’s attention when it is reported on the news. For Angel, seeing the businessman on the news, one of her worst memories resurfaces and she decides to visit old haunts with a view to settling old scores.

Cheetham has created an attention grabbing thriller which kept me reading well into the wee small hours. Angel is a flawed character yet believes she is following the correct path in her attempts to punish those who have taken advantage of her. She is aided, indirectly, by DI Jim Monahan who is prepared to put his career on the line to see ‘justice’ done but he does not believe that the due process of the law will be able to punish the guilty. Can Monahan use a vengeful prostitute to bring down a few corrupt individuals? If he does then what may the consequences be? All becomes clear as the plot unfolds and, in keeping with the tone of the book, there are not always happy endings to be found.

On the strength of Angel of Death I would be more than willing to read more from Ben Cheetham. This was a well written and action-packed read. Great characterisation and more than a few unexpected twists kept me entertained to the end. I would award Angel of Death 4/5 and add Ben Cheetham to my list of authors to watch out for.

 

 

 

 

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December 31

The Last Days of Disco – David F Ross

Disco coverEarly in the decade that taste forgot, Fat Franny Duncan is on top of the world. He is the undoubted King of the Ayrshire Mobile Disco scene, controlling and ruling the competition with an iron fist. From birthdays to barn dances, Franny is the man to call. He has even played ‘My Boy Lollipop’ at a funeral and got away with it. But the future is uncertain. A new partnership is coming and is threatening to destroy the big man’s Empire … Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller have been best mates since primary school. Joey is an idealist; Bobby just wants to get laid and avoid following his brother Gary to the Falklands.

A partnership in their new mobile disco venture seems like the best way for Bobby to do both at the same time. With compensation from an accident at work, Bobby’s dad Harry invests in the fledgling business. His marriage to Ethel is coming apart at the seams and the disco has given him something to focus on. Tragic news from the other side of the world brings all three strands together in a way that no one could have predicted.

The Last Days of Disco is a eulogy to the beauty and power of the 45rpm vinyl record and the small but significant part it played in a small town Ayrshire community in 1982. Witty, energetic and entirely authentic, it’s also heartbreakingly honest, weaving tragedy together with comedy with uncanny and unsettling elegance. A simply stunning debut. ‘Full of comedy, pathos and great tunes’ Hardeep Singh Kohli ‘Warm, funny and evocative. If you grew up in the Eighties, you’re going to love this’ Chris Brookmyre.

 

The Last Days of Disco is the second book published by Orenda Books and it is another triumph – an absolute joy to read. It is worth noting that the two Orenda books that I have read have been very, very different. The Abrupt Physics of Dying was an action packed eco thriller set in far off Yemen (a country I would struggle to find on a map). The Last Days of Disco is a story about people, is totally driven by the characters and is set in Kilmarnock (where I started school).

The Last Days of Disco takes place in the early 1980’s. It is Thatcher’s Britain, unemployment is high, the Falklands War arrives mid-story and life is hard for the Cassidy family. Bobby Cassidy is struggling through his final year at school but with opportunities of future employment looking sparse he is keen to pursue a money-making opportunity and start his own mobile disco. Fortunately all does not go smoothly and there are laughs to be had as the best intentioned plans go disastrously wrong.

Humour is a key element to Last Days and there were dozens of scenes which had me in stiches. Ross uses the reader’s benefit of 30 years of hindsight to set up some fabulous gags. However, there are some very emotive moments to share too, Gary Cassidy is a serving solider and is deployed to the Falklands during the 1982 war with Argentina. These sections of the book and Gary’s letters home to his family, added an extra element of humanity to the characters. I need to avoid spoilers at this stage, however, Gary’s story is one that I suspect I will remember for some time to come.

All good stories have a nemesis for the central character and in Fat Franny Duncan we have a nasty and petty thug who wants to control the Kilmarnock disco scene. Bobby’s new enterprise is encroaching on his patch – for Franny this cannot be allowed to continue. Although Bobby is largely unaware that Franny Duncan is out to sabotage his new venture I loved the varying degrees of success (or lack of it) that Franny experiences in scuppering Bobby’s gigs. A particular highlight here was the Disco at the Conservative club.

One key element of the book is the language: it is realistic and accurate. This is to say that it is regional and it is crude. This may put some readers off, however, to tone down the language would rob the story of authenticity – this is how many people in the West of Scotland speak and you need to accept that to enjoy the book.

Language aside, the other joy to be had from The Last Days of Disco is the music. David Ross is clearly extremely knowledgeable about the soundtrack of his youth. The references to bands and the records of the time are gems. I grew up listening to the songs mentioned in this book yet there are countless tracks referenced which I had never heard of. A fact-finding trip to Spotify is going to happen in the near future for this reader. For any music fan this book is a glorious nostalgia trip.

The Last Days of Disco will be my final review of 2014 and it will ensure that I finish my reading year on a high. As I read I was reminded of Trainspotting…but with disco rather than drugs!

I loved everything about this book and have to award it a 5/5 review.

December 28

The Chase – Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Internationally renowned thief and con artist Nicolas Fox is famous for running elaborate and daring scams. His greatest

The Chase
The Chase

con of all: convincing the FBI to team him up with the only person who has ever caught him, Special Agent Kate O’Hare. Together they’ll go undercover to swindle and catch the world’s most wanted – and untouchable – criminals.

Their newest target is Carter Grove, a former White House chief of staff and the ruthless leader of a private security agency. Grove has stolen a rare Chinese artefact from the Smithsonian, a crime that will torpedo U.S. relations with China if it ever becomes public. Nick and Kate must work under the radar – and against the clock – to devise a plan to steal the piece back. Confronting Grove’s elite assassins, Nick and Kate rely on the skills of their ragtag crew, including a flamboyant actor, a Geek Squad techie, and a band of AARP-card-carrying mercenaries led by none other than Kate’s dad.

A daring heist and a deadly chase lead Nick and Kate from Washington, D.C., to Shanghai, from the highlands of Scotland to the underbelly of Montreal. But it’ll take more than death threats, trained henchmen, sleepless nights, and the fate of a dynasty’s priceless heirloom to outsmart Fox and O’Hare.

Thanks to @bookywookydooda at Headline for my review copy!

 

The Chase captures everything I enjoy in a book. There are two lead characters with a great dynamic, a rich and powerful adversary with his own henchmen, FBI agents, outrageous robberies and loads of humour to keep me laughing as I read. What’s not to like?

The Chase is the second in a series of books by Evanovich and Goldberg which feature Special Agent Kate O’Hare and thief/con man Nicholas Fox. Confession time: I missed the first novel (The Heist) but on the strength of The Chase I am certainly going back and picking up The Heist. At no time while reading The Chase did I feel disadvantaged that I missed the first book in the series, it is not assumed you know the back story and the authors ensure you have all the information you need to enjoy the latest tale.

Fox and O’Hare are a fun double act. The sexual chemistry is there, though it is somewhat tempered by O’Hare’s distrust of Fox’s criminal background. There is lots of snappy, wise-cracking banter which goes a long way towards keeping the humour level high (if you grew up in the 80’s then think Moonlighting).

The actual story is great fun too. A valuable statue which was on loan from China to the USA has been stolen and replaced with a duplicate. Fox and O’Hare have to find the original (stolen) statue, steal it back and return it to the museum removing the duplicate before the original theft is discovered. Easy!

Fortunately it’s not that easy and soon the best laid plans need updated and adapted.

The Chase is a great fun read, the Evanovich/Goldberg team keep the thrills flowing – there is the comedy I expect from a Janet Evanovich story yet with a more action based focus which I am attributing to Mr Goldberg’s influence. I cannot wait to read more in the Fox/O’Hare series.

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December 23

2014 – My Magnificent Seven

Although I have only been actively blogging for six months it is time for my end of year round up. A quick check of my blog finds that I have reviewed around 50 books in the last 6 months of the year. To select a top 10 from 50 seemed too many so I was going to do a top five. Until I started my list and I discovered that I wanted to include one or two more: Grab This Book’s Magnificent Seven was born.

So in no particular order I present the seven books that I enjoyed reading most (and the reasons why) during 2014.

 

Stalkers – Paul Finch

I was late to the party on Paul Finch’s brilliant Mark Heckenburg novels. The good thing about this was: by the time I read Stalkers there were two sequels and two more on the way.

Stalkers is a compelling thriller which pulls no punches and delivers shocks and twists in equal measure. I have probably recommended Paul Finch’s books to more of my friends than any other author this year – thus far I have had nothing but positive feedback from those that took my advice.

Stalkers Review

Doctor Who: Engines of War – George Mann

Cast your eye over my blog and you will find that Doctor Who books crop up fairly frequently. I make no apology for this, I have been a fan of the show for 35 years and I have been reading Doctor Who novels since the 1980’s. Not counting the books I read more than once, or the many audio plays, I think I have read around 350 different Who novels (although it is probably more).

For me, George Mann’s Engines of War stands out as one of the best that I have read. Ever. It features the Daleks, a new companion (Scarlet) and even better – The War Doctor. The Doctor has been fighting in the Time War, the Daleks fear him and the Timelords still cannot control him. His weariness of the War is telling and this is not a Doctor that can solve all the problems and just disappear in his TARDIS waiting for the next adventure. Mann catches the fatigue and frustration of the Doctor brilliantly.

If you enjoy Doctor Who and have seen John Hurt’s War Doctor in action then this is a must read. If you like an exciting good guy/bad guy story this is also for you, there is a great adventure to share. If you hate all things Doctor Who, this may not be the book for you. But I loved it!

Engines of War Review

 

Vendetta – Dreda Say Mitchell

Some books are in my list for personal reasons and some are here as they are stand out reads. Vendetta falls into the latter category. It was (without any doubt) one of the most entertaining books that I have read in recent years.

I cannot say enough good things about Vendetta and was thrilled to be able to participate in the Blog Tour when it was published. Dreda Say Mitchell penned a fantastic article Heroes to Die For  which featured on my site. The combination of hosting the tour, having an exclusive article to feature and the book being one of my favourite reads of the year made this a memorable title for me.

Vendetta Review

 

Digital Circumstances – Brian Stewart

Summer 2014 was an amazing time to be in Scotland. We had the Edinburgh Festival (as we always do), the Book Festival (as we always do) but we also had Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games and the small matter of the Indy Ref – the world was watching.

Three out of the four events were spectacular successes – the fourth is subject to ongoing debate but 55% of the people were happy at the time!

During the height of all things Scottish I started reading Digital Circumstances, written and self-published by Brian Stewart. The story is (mainly) set in Glasgow and had a great mix of cybercrime and gangsters. As Glasgow is a city I know well and was very much in the public eye as I was reading Digital Circumstances – it just seemed a perfect read at the time.

A fun read and worth seeking out.

Digital Circumstances Review

 

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

A debut novel and the introduction of a principle character (Marnie Rome) which the author is planning on developing into an ongoing series. I have included this book in my top picks of the year mainly because it was a brilliant story which I got totally drawn into as I read.

However, Someone Else’s Skin holds the honour of being the book in 2014 with the best plot twist. It totally floored me and had me re-evaluating everything I had read up to that point in the story.

I read well over 100 novels this year, it would be very remiss of me to exclude the year’s ‘Jaw Drop’ moment from the list of my top books.

Someone Else’s Skin Review

 

An Evil Mind – Chris Carter

A fellow blogger contacted me asking if I could help him by reading a Chris Carter book (a task I felt reasonably comfortable accepting). He had been set a mission by the publishers: to find readers who had not read Chris Carter’s work and see if he could turn them into fans. I agreed to help and duly received a copy of An Evil Mind.

Click through to check my review for a more comprehensive summary, however, the addition of four new Chris Carter novels to my bookcase in the last few weeks should give a fairly big clue as to how much I enjoyed An Evil Mind. When drawing up a shortlist of possible titles to include in my Magnificent Seven, nothing came close to dislodging An Evil Mind from the list.

My thanks to Shaun on this one – take some time to visit his blog at: www.bookaddictshaun.co.uk

An Evil Mind Review

 

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

The book that broke my rules. Don’t get drawn back into Fantasy novels. Don’t start a series of books if the last books are not published yet. Don’t lend out your copies of your favourite books to friends as you know they will love it. Three copies of Red Rising later I currently only have my digital copy left – I MAY get some of my paperbacks back (eventually)!

This book made me want to read Fantasy novels again – this is after an 8 year hiatus where I have only really read crime and thrillers. A must read novel and worthy for inclusion in ANY list of recommended reads.

Red Rising Review

 

So there we have it – my best reading memories from 2014 and a brief explanation as to why these books stood out for me.

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December 21

Time and Time Again – Ben Elton

Time and Time Again
Time and Time Again

It’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be.

Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.

Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century?

And, if so, could another single bullet save it?

 

Thanks to Transworld and Netgalley for my review copy.

In the late 1980’s I was a High School student studying history and learning for the first time about The Great War of 1914-1918. In the evenings I watched the popular television shows of the time and could not help but be aware of the very talented and highly entertaining Mr Ben Elton – I loved his stand-up routines and was (as we all were) a fan of Blackadder.

Fast forward an alarming number of years and I am holding a book written by Mr Elton about World War One – still the period of history I find most fascinating. A dream combination for this reader!

Time and Time Again has brilliant imaginative promise – if you could change one single event to make the world a better place what would you change? It is hard to argue with the logic of trying to stop the chain of events which led to the outbreak of war in August 1914.

That is the approach adopted by Elton. A soldier is offered the opportunity to travel back through time to change history by breaking the chain of events which lead to the outbreak of The Great War. An alternative solution is presented and our solider (Hugh Stanton) is trained to ensure he blends into early 20th Century society. He is given a comprehensive knowledge of people and places which are key to ensuring his mission is successful and then armed with very anachronistic laptop, body armour and i-phone he sets off to Europe with the aim of being at a specific time and place to jump back in time. As you may expect Stanton is skeptical as to whether or not he will actually time travel.

Making sure I avoid any spoilers on plot twists… I found the idea for being able to consider changing one event in the past cleverly reasoned and I liked the idea of ‘great minds’ being entrusted with a secret. There are some entertaining discussions into the ethical nature of taking one life to potentially save millions and you cannot help but feel that a Reading Group could spend some time debating whether the characters are taking an appropriate course of action.

So it is all good on concept, plot and subsequent analysis. However, I found some of the characters just a bit too over the top and it took me a while to warm to the key player (Stanton). Having established a brilliant premise I felt the story lost pace somewhat in the middle, perhaps with a bit too much treading water as the finale was established. That said, I really enjoyed how the story played out and the ending was quite unexpected, a good unexpected!

For a reader with some knowledge of the First World War this is a fun story where Ben Elton plays with figures and events we know and turns things on their head. If your awareness of 20th Century European history is a bit rusty you are in good hands as you are given all the information and detail needed to enjoy an engaging adventure story.

I enjoyed Time and Time Again and it had plenty of positive elements which would ensure a 3/5 score – lots of fun to be had and a thought provoking premise.

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December 17

Ghost Camera – Darcy Coates

Ghost CameraA small number of cameras have the ability to capture ghosts on film. This gift comes at a steep price; the ghosts are resentful and hungry, and the cameras offer them a rare chance to reach their favourite prey… humans.

Jenine doesn’t know any of this when she finds an abandoned Polaroid camera in a lighthouse. At first she assumes the ghostly shapes in the photos are a glitch or a prank – but then the spirits begin to hunt her down, and she’s forced into a deadly race to free herself from the camera’s curse.

 

Thanks to Patchwork Press and Netgalley for my review copy

At 118 pages long Ghost Camera by Darcy Coates is a short but engaging read. The story focuses on Jenine, she finds an old Polaroid camera in an abandoned lighthouse and is delighted to find that it still works. After snapping a few pictures Jenine is unsettled to find that there are ghostly figures appearing in the pictures she has taken.

Turning to her friend Bree for advice, together the pair try to make some sense out of what they may be seeing in the pictures. The more photographs they take, the more obvious (and hostile) the ghostly figures are in the resultant images.

With Jenine facing a constant threat the race is on to find someone who can help free her from the attentions of the ghosts, however, the only person who seems to understand the problem does not want to talk with her!

I really enjoyed how Darcy Coates managed to build up the sense of growing menace during Ghost Camera. Initially Jenine is unnerved by the images she sees, however, her anxiety soon grows and she starts to realise that she is constantly surrounded by ghostly figures and that they are beginning to be able to make their presence felt. The author conveyed Janine’s growing fear really well and as I read I got caught up in the building tension.

The logistics of how the titular Ghost Camera worked and how it exposed Janine to danger was excellent. I am a big fan of a simple idea being worked well and Darcy Coates nails it here. The explanation of the camera was introduced at exactly the right point in the story and incorporated in such a way that it did not feel that explanations were being forced upon us.

It has been a while since I read a ‘proper’ ghost story but I thoroughly enjoyed Ghost Camera and it whet my appetite for more supernatural thrills.

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December 16

The Abrupt Physics of Dying – Paul Hardisty

Claymore Straker is trying to forget a violent past. Working as an oil company engineer in the wilds of Yemen, he is

The Abrupt Physics of Dying
The Abrupt Physics of Dying

hijacked at gunpoint by Islamic terrorists. Clay has a choice: help uncover the cause of a mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company’s oil-processing facility, or watch Abdulkader, his driver and close friend, die.

As the country descends into civil war and village children start dying, Clay finds himself caught up in a ruthless struggle between opposing armies, controllers of the country’s oil wealth, Yemen’s shadowy secret service, and rival terrorist factions. As Clay scrambles to keep his friend alive, he meets Rania, a troubled journalist. Together, they try to uncover the truth about Al Urush. But nothing in this ancient, unforgiving place is as it seems. Accused of a murder he did not commit, put on the CIA’s most-wanted list, Clay must come to terms with his past and confront the powerful forces that want him dead.

A stunning debut eco-thriller, The Abrupt Physics of Dying is largely based on true events – the horrific destruction of fresh water and lives by oil giants. Gritty, gripping and shocking, this book will not only open your eyes but keep them glued to the page until the final, stunning denouement is reached.

 

Many thanks to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for my review copy.

 

The Abrupt Physics of Dying is a phenomenal debut from Paul Hardisty, an action packed thriller which highlights the corruption that comes with corporate greed. The characters are brilliantly realised too as we see some very human flaws come to the fore.

The Abrupt Physics of Dying is primarily set in Yemen and follows ‘Clay’ Straker, he is an Environmental Contractor working for Petro-Tex who have established an extremely profitable oil plant in a remote part of the country. It is Clay’s job to monitor potential contamination around the plant, keep the local authorities amenable and ensure Petro-Tex can continue to drill while they seek corporate support to expand their enterprise.

However, Yemen is a troubled country and in the opening chapters we see Clay kidnapped by a terrorist group who hold Clay and his driver, Abdulkader, hostage. The leader of the terrorist group wants Clay to prove that the Petro-Tex plant is poisoning the area around their plant and endangering the villages nearby. Clay is released from his captivity to expose Petro-Tex and highlight the danger their operations are causing, Abdulkader is kept as a prisoner. Clay has 8 days to prove the contamination and alert the relevant authorities to the danger. If he succeeds he will save his friend.

From this point on we are taken on a frantic race against time as Clay struggles to establish if his employers are complicit in endangering hundreds of lives. Clay can trust no-one in his quest for the truth as Petro-Tex will do all they can to block his investigations. The press are sympathetic but will need evidence before they go public with any allegations against Petro-Tex. Rania is the journalist on scene (and she provides a love interest too) but it is not clear if Rania is being honest with Clay or if she is working to her own agenda. Added to the mix is a psychotic Security Agent looking to silence Clay – permanently.

We quickly learn that Clay is no desk-jockey, he has military training and is more than adept at fighting his way out of a tight corner. A very useful trait as Clay finds himself in more than one tight spot as he battles to unravel a web of corruption. It can be a tricky balance between exposing your hero to a constant threat and making him an invincible fighting machine. Clay faces many tough scrapes and does not necessarily come through each incident unscathed. However, I wonder if the level of peril that he encounters may be slightly too much for some readers to accept given the serious tone of the rest of the book. Personally I love an action packed read so I had no concerns – this one kept me gripped.

It is not a full on action ride every step of the way. As the story develops we see Clay start to consider how his actions in the past may have aided corruption to go unchallenged. Following the paycheck he has smoothed diplomatic channels, paid officials and had favourable reports returned and generally turned a blind eye to areas out with his remit. Now, as he faces the potential catastrophe of Petro-Tex creating an environmental disaster, Clay considers his own involvement in the process and realises that he may personally have failed the people he is now trying to save. This self-realisation added an extra dimension to Clay, giving depth to the character and seemingly steeling his motivation to put an end to the damage that is occurring.

Environmental crime is not a theme I have encountered often. The technical knowledge to make it convincing may be a limiting factor for some or perhaps the scale of the impact too great to take on? However, no such concerns here as Paul Hardisty has constructed a relevant and very believable thriller. Sadly it is too easy to accept that a corporation may put business interests ahead of lives if they believed they could cover it up. The message I took from this was that the love of power and money will overrule any feelings of morality and that, for some, human life becomes meaningless in the face of profit.

The Abrupt Physics of Dying is not only the debut novel from Paul Hardisty, it is also the first novel published by Orenda Books. It is pleasing to see both author and publisher getting off to such a strong start. The Abrupt Physics of Dying is compelling reading and tackles subject matter not often encountered: I urge you to grab this book, it is both dynamic and different and I enjoyed it immensely.

The Abrupt Physics of Dying was published by Orenda Books and is available now from the Kindle Store. A physical copy of the book will be in shops from March 2015.

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December 13

The Zig Zag Girl – Elly Griffiths

The Zig Zag Girl
The Zig Zag Girl

Brighton, 1950.

When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl.

The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men.

Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.

Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger…

 

 

This review was originally prepared for @BookAddictShaun Many thanks to Shaun for providing me with the book – Quercus Books kindly provided the book for review.

 

Elly Griffiths is best known for her Ruth Galloway stories, however, The Zig Zag girl is a stand-alone novel which features a new lead character: Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens.

Stephens is an immediately likeable figure and I found his friendship with a collection of magicians to be entertainingly quirky. The unusual collaboration of policeman and entertainers stems from the time Stephens served as part of a specialist intelligence unit during the Second World War. He (and the magicians) were posted to Inverness and tasked with creating the illusion of increased British military strength which would distract and divert German attention.

The events of The Zig Zag Girl are set a few years after the end of WW2 Stephens has lost contact with the other members of his unit (dubbed The Magic Men). However, the murder of a young girl, who had performed as a magician’s assistant, brings Stephens back into contact with his friend Max Mephisto. Mephisto has been touring theatres headlining the bill everywhere he goes with his famed magic act – yet we share his frustration as he sees that the days of Cabaret are drawing to a close.

The partnership of Stephens and Mephisto works well. The conventional policeman and the unconventional magician play off each other to great effect. As they renew their friendship Griffiths gets to show how their lives beyond their jobs are sadly empty.

At the front of The Zig Zag Girl is a murder mystery. Someone has targeted the Magic Men and is bumping-off the former members of the old unit one by one. A dismembered body is delivered to the police station in a parcel addressed to Stephens. Other taunts and threats follow and Stephens and Max Mephisto find they are in a race against time to save their old colleagues – but they cannot be sure that they are not next to be targeted.

The killer uses a variety of magical tricks and illusions when committing murders which made the ‘magic’ element of the book more fun. Also, re-uniting a collection of magicians let the author set several scenes in clubs and theatres. The reader gets to see what life was like behind the curtains for the performers and added an extra dimension to the story which I really enjoyed.

I found The Zig Zag Girl to be a fun read, I loved the 1950’s setting and Elly Griffiths did a great job of catching the feel of the slower paced lifestyle of days gone by. My only concern was that I spotted the twist half-way through the story which meant that as the book drew to a close I didn’t get the level of excitement I had hoped to enjoy.

The Zig Zag Girl has a lot to offer and I am definitely going to pick up more books by Elly Griffiths as I enjoyed her writing style and the characters she created. I would award The Zig Zag Girl 3.5 out of 5.

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