November 7

Dreda Say Mitchell – Heroes To Die For

Vendetta-blogtour-banner-2Heroes To Die For

What makes a great character or hero in a thriller? It goes without saying that if we knew the answer to that question we wouldn’t be writing or reading blogs – we’d be lying by our swimming pool with a banana daiquiri, feeling sorry for all those poor people out there. Of course, all those who write or read thrillers have their own ideas and we’ve got plenty of examples over the years to help answer the question. From Sam Spade and onto Jack Reacher, and on the big screen Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character in ‘Alien’, heroes are all very different. But is it possible to find a common thread?

For those of us who write thrillers, this is more than a theoretical question, we have to get it right. You can develop the most ingenious plot based on the most original premise but if your characters don’t do it for the reader, it’s going back on the shelf. And there isn’t an easy answer to it; nothing’s more frustrating for a writer than seeing another author breaking all the supposed rules and then coming up trumps anyway (although that in itself should be a pointer). But if we can’t actually spot the ball, we can at least identify the ballpark.

One common feature is that we have to be on our hero’s side and they have to be basically sympathetic even, or especially, when they’re up to no good. It won’t work if we go into the final showdown and the reader’s thinking, “I hope the villain kills the hero, he’s got it coming…” In my new novel ‘Vendetta’, our hero Mac, breaks all the police officer’s rules and I hope the reader understand why. I want the reader whispering, “Yes, I get it; I’d do the same in his position…” Some thrillers take the reader by the arm and make them complicit in the murder and mayhem. There are of course gentle and self effacing investigators in the genre but I tend not to gravitate towards them as a reader.

And heroes can’t simply be heroic; they need their human and vulnerable side if readers are going to buy into them. Yes, of course, we want them to be able to flatten a half dozen bad guys waiting to attack them in a dark alley. But at the same time if they’ve got the perfect family, their pension all sorted out and no vices of any kind, it’s hard to get into them. Many readers are now getting a little fed up with the alcoholic cop ‘on the edge’ but there’s a very good reason why they became so popular in the first place. And there’s a very good reason why our characters tend to suffer a long, dark night of the soul. We want real people not cardboard cut-outs. In ‘Vendetta’, Mac has got his problems but hey who hasn’t? We want exaggerated versions of real life but we want real life in there too.

Dreda Say Mitchell © Joseph KalerWhat goes for heroes is also true of villains. There are still a few evil masterminds who are planning to destroy the planet – in 24 hours of course – but they’re rare now. The charming serial killer, the morally ambiguous criminal, the murderer who did it for understandable reasons, tend to be the rule these days. Indeed the convergence of heroes and villains has become one of the features of 21st century thriller writing.

But ultimately, what’s the test of the real deal when it comes to thriller characters? Well, if you’re sitting next to someone on the bus and they’re reading your book and they look up in horror because they’ve missed their stop, then you’ve got it right. And all the theorising about characters in the world isn’t going to change that.

 

VENDETTA by Dreda Say Mitchell is out now in paperback and eBook, published by Hodder, £6.99. For more information visit www.dredasaymitchell.com and follow Dreda on twitter @DredaMitchell

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November 7

Vendetta – Dreda Say Mitchell

Vendetta
Vendetta

 

Two murders. Two different crime scenes. One killer?

Mac wakes in a smashed-up hotel room with no recollection of what has happened. With his lover’s corpse in the bathroom and the evidence suggesting that he killed her, Mac is on a mission to uncover the truth and find the real killer.

But he’s in a race against time with less than a day to unravel the mystery. Still reeling from a personal tragedy Mac isn’t afraid of pain. Hot on his heels is tenacious Detective Inspector Rio Wray. Double-crossed and in the line of fire, Mac has to swim through a sea of lies to get to the truth.

But only Mac knows he’s been living a double life. Can he be sure he doesn’t have the blood of a dead woman on his hands.

Thank you to Hodder and the Bookbridgr team for my review copy.

 

 

Before I start my Vendetta review in full there is something that I need to get off my chest…

VENDETTA IS MAGNIFICENT!

Thank you – I have been holding that in for a couple of weeks.

No point in my being coy about this review, I loved Vendetta! It is a roller-coaster of adventure with undercover cops, Russian gangsters, nasty murders and has many unsavoury characters popping up all over the place. I have wanted to shout about how much I enjoyed reading it but had been holding off so I could time my review to coincide with Dreda Say Mitchell’s Blog Tour visit.

There is a cover quote from Lee Child ‘Breathless from the first word and thrilling to the last.’ Top author nails a review in one line. That is exactly how I found Vendetta. In the opening scenes our hero, Mac, wakes in a hotel room with a gunshot wound to his head and his girlfriend’s mutilated corpse in the bath. Did Mac kill her? He can’t remember but the police are outside and Mac does not want to stick around to answer awkward questions.

What comes next is a frenetic thriller as we follow Mac through the back streets and dark alleys of London while he tries to keep one step ahead of Detective Inspector Rio Wray and tries to catch up with a killer (assuming that killer is not Mac himself).

Short yet punchy chapters, fast paced narrative and an engaging story make Vendetta very readable and extremely enjoyable. I loved Dreda Say Mitchell’s characterisation of Mac and DI Wray, she puts her cast through the wringer and how they contend with their respective trauma and loss defines their actions through the book. Characters pushed to their limits take reckless chances which, in turn, leads to great entertainment for a reader.

I have read some great books this year but Vendetta stands out as one of the best. I tore through it and grudged any time that I had to tear myself away from Mac’s world. Also, I am glad the book was published this week as my review copy (and I) got soaked in an October downpour so it needs replaced. I want Vendetta sitting pretty on by bookshelf as it has earned its place as a ‘keeper’. Unsurprisingly I have awarded Vendetta a five star review.

 

VENDETTA by Dreda Say Mitchell is out now in paperback and eBook, published by Hodder, £6.99. For more information visit www.dredasaymitchell.com and follow Dreda on twitter @DredaMitchell

 

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November 5

Stephen Lloyd Jones Q&A for Written in the Blood

I am thrilled to be part of the Stephen Lloyd Jones WRITTEN IN THE BLOOD Blog Tour. On this leg of the tour Stephen has very kindly taken time to complete a Q&A.

Having loved Stephen’s first novel, THE STRING DIARIES, I was keen to find what lay in store in WRITTEN IN THE BLOOD. I also wanted to find out a little more about life beyond the books and find where the ideas may have come from.

 

Jakab was the menacing threat throughout The String Diaries, can readers expect a similar foe in Written in the Blood?

They certainly can. THE STRING DIARIES was the story of Hannah Wilde’s struggle to escape Jakab, psychopathic member of Hungary’s secretive hosszú életek. I think of that book as a microcosm – it touched on the hosszú életek mythos but focussed on the intensely personal fight between Hannah and Jakab.

WRITTEN IN THE BLOOD is set fifteen years after the climactic events of THE STRING DIARIES, and occurs over a far broader landscape. This time around, the main protagonist is Leah Wilde, Hannah’s daughter. Early in the novel, Leah falls prey to a danger more formidable than the hosszú életek. I don’t want to reveal too much about the new threat, but it’s not the only danger confronting Leah. Closer to home lurks an even greater menace. And if you thought Jakab was a conflicted character in THE STRING DIARIES, wait until you meet Izsak, his younger brother . . .

Both The String Diaries and Written in the Blood feature strong female lead characters (Hannah and Leah).  Is it hard to write for a central character of the opposite sex?

Thank you! I must admit, I don’t set out to write strong female characters, just strong characters. That’s something that happens long before the writing begins – the better I know a character before I commit them to paper, the easier the job of writing them becomes. If I caught myself considering gender too closely, I’d be worried. We’re all unique creations, after all. Gender is simply one facet.

Your website suggests you live in a house that is filled with too many books – what do you read and where do you seek guidance or inspiration?

The shelves are truly creaking around here. I tried a Kindle once, didn’t like it, so am doomed to mountains of books instead. I read a wide range of genres but I do have a few old favourites in terms of writers – Dean Koontz and Stephen King particularly. Other than that, I enjoy historical fiction, thrillers, fantasy. I tend to pick up and read whichever book is threatening to collapse the most precarious stack.

Inspiration comes in a never-ending drip-feed of thoughts and images. Out of that soup, sometimes a story will emerge.

Written in the Blood (as with The String Diaries) covers a lot of territory while the story unfolds.  Do you travel to research your locations?

The new book contains a wider range of locations than my debut, but I think I’ve travelled to all but one of them. The fun part was investigating their history: during WRITTEN IN THE BLOOD, readers will visit contemporary California, London and the Italian Lakes, as well as nineteenth century Hungary, 1920s New York, and wartime Canada.

Finally, what comes next for Stephen Lloyd Jones?

I’m currently writing my third novel. It’s a standalone book, based on an idea I’ve had for a while. Headline are due to publish it in January 2015.

 

My thanks again to Stephen for taking time to answer my questions.   WRITTEN IN THE BLOOD is published on 6 November by Headline.

Please also ensure you visit the other stops on the Blog Tour for exclusive content and extracts from WRITTEN IN THE BLOOD.

Written in the Blood blog tour

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November 5

Written in the Blood – Stephen Lloyd Jones

Written in the BloodHigh in the mountains of the Swiss Alps Leah Wilde is about to gamble her life to bring a powerful man an offer. A promise.

Leah has heard the dark stories about him and knows she is walking into the lion’s den. But her options are running out. Her rare lineage, kept secret for years, is under terrible threat. That is, unless Leah and her mother Hannah are prepared to join up with their once deadly enemies.

Should the prey ever trust the predator?

Is hope for future generations ever enough to wash away the sins of the past?

With a new and chilling danger stalking them all, and the survival of their society at stake, they may have little choice…

 

Thanks to Headline and Bookbrigr for my review copy.

 

The sequel to The String Diaries and Stephen Lloyd Jones picks up with his narrative so we learn what happens to Hannah Wilde and her daughter Leah after the life-changing events outlined in his debut novel. We join the action 15 years after the events of The String Diaries and find that Hannah has been busy but her activities require her to keep a continued low profile.

Leah has grown into a strong, independent woman, however, her mother’s ongoing project is not yielding success as quickly as Leah would like – driven by her own personal demons – she decides to take a more proactive approach to assist Hannah’s project.

The avoidance of spoilers is key here so I am not going to give too much detail into the underlying story threads of Written in the Blood. Suffice to say that the story that began in The String Diaries is developed with much more depth in Written in the Blood. The society of hosszú életek is explored and the turmoil of survival for its members is displayed in all its savagery. Stephen Lloyd Jones has no apparent qualms over putting his characters to the sword and many characters suffer at his hands.

Always looking
The String Diaries

For the new reader I would urge caution – read The String Diaries first. Written in the Blood is a great read but without fully understanding the back history you may lose some of the fun that goes with joining a tale half-way through. There are twists in Written in the Blood that reward The String Diary readers and the concepts of hosszú életek are much easier to take on board when you have seen the evolution of the characters from the first book.

With the deepening of the mythos of the hosszú életek there is a greater emphasis on the factions within the society and the politics of power always bring a nice edge to stories. On a personal note, the broader cast of characters had me slightly disadvantaged (as I must confess to a terrible memory for names) so there were one or two occasions where a recap was required.

At the end of the book I find I am a happy reader. A strong follow-up to a debut novel and I am keen to read more from Stephen Lloyd Jones. I give Written in the Blood 4 stars out of possible 5 and urge you to treat yourself to The String Diaries and Written in the Blood – dark and different thrillers.

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October 27

Blog Tour – Leigh Russell Escapes to Solitude

This is the last stop on Leigh Russell’s Race to Death Blog Tour. My review of Race to Death follows below, but before we get there time to let Leigh cool the pace a little.

While the virtual tour has been progressing, Leigh has also been touring in York, where Race to Death is set. After a very hectic few weeks Leigh is heading for a well earned break. Before she finally escaped, however, she agreed to answer my request to consider what she may take on a desert island escape.

Borrowing heavily from Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, I asked Leigh what books she would take to a desert island escape, one piece of music and a luxury item – she kindly replied and has planned her escape…

 

Right now my life is so hectic, the idea of an “island get-away” seems very appealing. To give you an idea of how busy my life has become, just yesterday I returned home from a promotional tour of Yorkshire, today I’m in Brighton today at a meeting discuss establishing the International Thriller Writers in the UK, and then tomorrow I’m off to Barcelona to do some research. In November I’m travelling North again, through Birmingham to Buxton, for more book events, and then going South to Chichester before returning to York in December… I am rarely at home these days! So when I was asked to consider what I might take to a desert island, I was happy to accept the opportunity to dream about it…

If I could take just six books with me to my desert island retreat, the first would be the complete works of Shakespeare. If a complete works is not allowed, I would choose Hamlet and Macbeth as two of my six books, as I particularly love the language of those two plays. My third choice would be Milton’s Paradise Lost. The language is magnificent, and the poem is long enough to keep me engaged for weeks. My next choice would be Pride and Prejudice, for entertainment value and because, like my other choices, it is so beautifully written. My two final choices would be Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, and Kazuo Ishiguru’s The Remains of the Day, which are both intensely sad novels, beautifully written.

The one CD I would take would be any Mozart as I find his music sublime. I don’t think I could ever tire of it. Lying on the beach on my island retreat, gazing at the ocean and listening to Mozart would be very relaxing. (When can I go, please?)

My one luxury item would be my ipad, and a source of electricity. That way I would never feel bored or lonely, because I would be busy writing books.

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October 27

Race to Death – Leigh Russell

Race to Death‘Moments before, he had been enjoying a day out at the races. Now he could be dying…. As he fell a loud wind roared past his ears, indistinguishable from the roar of the crowd. The race was over’.

A man plummets to his death during the York Races. Suicide or murder?  Newly-promoted DI Ian Peterson is plunged into a complex and high-profile case, and as the body count increases, the pressure mounts for his team to solve the crimes quickly.

But the killer is following the investigation far more keenly than Ian realises and time is running out as the case suddenly gets a lot closer to home…

 

Leigh Russell is the author of the successful DI Geraldine Steel books. Having firmly established Steel as a strong lead character Leigh then plucked Steel’s colleague, Ian Peterson, from an underling role to the principle character in his own series of books. Peterson takes the lead for the first time in Cold SacrificeRace to Death is the second Peterson book.

This was actually the first time I had read one of Leigh Russell’s books – it will not be the last as I really enjoyed Race to Death. At no stage did I feel that I was disadvantaged from not knowing Peterson’s back story. His character was outlined well in the opening stages of the book and the fact he had just moved house and job made Race to Death feel like a good jumping on point.

The action kicks off during the buzz of race day at York races, however, tragedy soon strikes for one family. The opening chapters are very nicely written and you actually get to experience a murder from the viewpoint of the victim – nice twist which was very well written (even if it was a little disconcerting).

Enter Peterson, newly in role, who tasked with solving the murder. We get to share his anxiety at the challenge of proving himself and we see his obsession in puzzling the half clues and unreliable witnesses. The story also follows Peterson’s wife, she is struggling to come to terms with the move to York and we see her largely ignored by her husband while his work takes over every waking minute.

One minor irk while I was reading was that I felt Peterson should have been paying more attention to his home life and I felt annoyed with him for ignoring his wife. Why can’t he see that he is not paying her enough attention? When I get annoyed with characters it is always a good sign that I am engaging with a book!

As with any murder story I like to try and puzzle out who the killer is before the author reveals all. Race to Death was no different, my brain was wracked and I formulated my suspicions – even to the point I was beginning to think this was a random attacker story and that there was no connection between the characters in the book to the killer. But all became clear in the end with a nice twist which I certainly did not see coming.

For the uninitiated this is a great introduction to Leigh Russell’s books. It works as a stand alone novel but clearly there is also a back story to enjoy too so the returning fan will not be disappointed. As I write I should also highlight that Leigh’s books are reduced in the Kindle Store and most are available for under £1 each. On the evidence of Race to Death these should be great reads.

Race to Death gets 4 out of 5 and makes me want to read more Leigh Russell books.

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October 25

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Thanks to Transworld and Netgalley for my review copy.

 

I could just leave this review as:

“Wow, this book is incredible – everyone should read it!” because that is exactly what I was thinking as I read The Girl on The Train.

You need a little more though.

 

Rachel is the lead voice, she is The Girl on the Train. She is a sad character. Her husband has left her, he is living with his new wife and their new baby in Rachel’s old house – a house that Rachel sees every day from her seat on the train as she travels to work. Unfortunately, Rachel is not prepared to accept that her marriage is over, she drinks heavily and is very much down on her luck.

On her journey to work Rachel sees another house every day – she watches the couple that live there and she imagines how their perfect life together must be. They are her ‘Jess and Jason’.

The narration switches from Rachel to Jess (real name Megan) and the reader gets to learn more about Rachel’s ‘perfect’ girl – unsurprisingly all is not perfect in her life after all.

The final narrator of the story is Anna. Anna is married to Rachel’s ex-husband. She does not like Rachel and is increasingly frustrated by Rachel’s constant interference in her life – she just wants Rachel to leave her family alone. But when Rachel gets drunk she calls and emails her ex-husband and Rachel gets drunk a lot.

As the book unfolds the story is moved on by changes to the narrator. We move from Rachel to Megan to Rachel then to Anna before joining with Rachel again. Slightly confusing if you have to put the book down mid chapter but easily recoverable (and you will not WANT to put the book down mid-chapter).

Paula Hawkins creates vivid, believable characters. The switching of narration between Rachel (The Drunk), Megan (The Perfect Girl) and Anna (The Other Woman) is expertly handled. I was completely drawn into the story, driven by the necessity to find out what happened next. The true mark of my enjoyment was that I was disappointed when the book ended – I could have read more.

I am very much against spoilers so I cannot reveal too much more about the various twists in the plot but I can assure you that there are twists a-plenty. The Girl on the Train is a gripping read – you must avoid spoilers, you must read it as soon as you can and you must hope that someone makes it into film so that you can tell them you read the book first and that it was incredible.

A full five out of five for The Girl on the Train.

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October 23

Confessions – Kanae Minato

The Japanese phenomenon – the story of a grief-stricken schoolteacher who comes face to face with absolute evil.

I reviewed this book for fellow blogger Shaun  and my review will feature on his blog at http://www.bookaddictshaun.co.uk

My thanks, therefore, to Shaun for trusting my opinion and for sharing my review with his readers – also for sending me a copy of Confessions to read!

Confessions
Confessions

So to the book…the description gives you very little but Confessions is a short novel and it is hard to reveal too much of the story without spoiling the twists.

Yuko Moriguchi is a teacher, during the course of the year Moriguchi suffered a personal tragedy when her daughter died in an accident. It is now the end of the school year and Moriguchi has one final message for her class – she knows that her daughter’s death was no accident and furthermore she knows that two of her students killed her daughter. Before her class is released for their holiday (and Moriguchi leaves the teaching profession forever) she discloses the identity of the killers to the whole class and reveals how she has exacted her revenge.

The opening section of the book is delivered entirely from Moriguchi’s viewpoint, a narration as we hear her address to the class. A clever device as once the class are dismissed Moriguchi slips from the story and the narrative is picked up by another.

The pattern of Confessions is thus established. The narrative switches to one of the killers and we hear his side of the story, Moriguchi it seems did not have all the facts at her disposal. Throughout the course of the book the narration switches between five different participants who were either involved in the murder or were caught up in Moriguchi’s subsequent revenge. As each narrator picks up the tale they provide depth to the back story and we see how the consequences of Moriguchi’s actions unfold.

As a story telling device I thought this element of Confessions worked really well. However, I had problems accepting what I was reading. The pupils in Moriguchi’s class are around 11 or 12 years old yet the featured characters all seem to be at extreme low points in their collective lives. Their actions and deeds just too implausible for me to buy into the story.

Let me be clear, I have read books where the world travels through space on the back of a giant turtle, others where vampires live alongside humans and my favourite fictional character is a 1200 year old Time Lord that travels in a blue box – I can suspend my belief in reality for the sake of a good story without any problem. However, Confessions just did not sit well – it started with real promise yet became more and more unbelievable while still trying to retain a degree of normality.

It is impossible to explain the issues without revealing spoilers and I am sure that where I found irritations there will be many who enjoy the evil deeds that are depicted. There are twists a plenty and a very unexpected ending which should enthral – it just wasn’t for me.

Overall there are a lot of clever elements to Confessions yet too many niggles for me to have embraced it. To rate it out of 5: I would not give it any more than a 3.

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October 23

Scarlett Point (short story) – Chris Ewan

SCARLETT POINT is a 6000 word short story from the bestselling author of SAFE HOUSE.

Cutler is a man with a dark secret, hiding out by the coast on the Isle of Man. Luke is a young boy hunting for an elusive treasure from an incomplete map. Their lives collide at SCARLETT POINT in a story about trust, redemption and how sometimes you find what you most need when you’re searching for something else.

SCARLETT POINT was originally commissioned by the Isle of Man Arts Council as  part of the Island of Culture initiative and is now available exclusively as a Kindle Single.

 

Thanks to Chris Ewan who emailed me a copy of the story to read.

 

At around 6,000 words, it will not take you too long to enjoy Scarlett Point. Yet you can be assured that you will enjoy this tale.

Luke is a treasure hunter on a mission. He has an incomplete treasure map and it is imperative that he finds the loot – unfortunately he doesn’t know what he is looking for.

Cutler is camping on Scarlett Point, he just wants some peace and quiet away from everyone else so a young treasure hunter outside his tent is not a great start to his day.

What comes next is a clever story with a twist I didn’t see coming.

 

Chris also has a new novel out which I reviewed here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=259

A cracking story of Hop-tu-Naa with a serial killer picking off a victim on 31st October each year. A group of friends share a terrible secret – a prank that went badly wrong. Now it seems that someone is out to make them pay for their mistakes…

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