November 9

Neil White – Lost In Nashville

I am delighted to welcome Neil White back to Grab This Book.

Neil’s new book, Lost in Nashville, was published on 8 November and takes the reader on a nostalgic road-trip as a father and son go traveling through the life of the one and only…Johnny Cash.

As is always the case when someone reveals a favourite artist there is one question which must be answered.

 

I’ve been asked to pick my favourite Johnny Cash song as part of the lead-up to the release of Lost In Nashville, my novel about a father and son who travel Johnny Cash’s life and songs in some effort to reconnect. When I apply my mind to it, it seems an almost impossible task. Try looking across a sun-dappled meadow and being asked to pick your favourite flower. 

I don’t know when I realised I was a Johnny Cash fan, because he was very much the soundtrack to my childhood, my father blasting him out whenever he put music on. Eventually, it seeps into you and becomes part of you. 

What I do know is that Johnny’s music covers such a wide spectrum and that they all have their own particular appeal. 

There are the early Sun records, raw and young, and then there are the songs about the wild west and cowboys. Historical songs were a common feature, and a lot of my knowledge of American history is down to Johnny’s songs. Like, who assassinated President Garfield, or the story behind one of the men hoisting the US flag at Iwo Jima, Ira Hayes. Tales of the American west and its characters, from the legendary cowboy figures to the stories of great Native Americans, they were all handed down to me by Johnny Cash, the son of a sharecropper from some small dusty Arkansas town. 

Johnny wasn’t just about history to me though, because he sang about hardship and the lost lives of those who ended up on the wrong side of the law. The raw energy of the prison concerts sent shivers down my young spine, Johnny singing tunes that spoke to them, was in their language, tales of murder sung to whooping audiences of murderers that sparked an interest in criminal law. I ended up a criminal lawyer and an author of crime fiction. Johnny shaped me as well as entertained me. 

That is why it is so hard to choose a favourite song, because they cover so much and all spark different emotions. 

I’m going to settle on one though, because I’ve been asked to choose, and that song is Orange Blossom Special. 

The reasons are numerous, but most of all because it’s a great song, Johnny’s version of an old fiddle tune about a train that ran from New York to Miami. There is a story about how it was written, but I’ll leave that for the book to explore, but the story centres on Jacksonville, Florida, and it does for me, in part. 

I’ve picked the song partly because of the rhythm. It’s about a train and the rhythm of the song captures it perfectly, from the whistle-wail of the mouth organ to the way the steady pluck of the guitar matches the wheels on the rails. It’s impossible to listen to it without imagining the train hurtling south. 

Another reason is that it was the song that turned my father on to Johnny Cash, and without that, my musical education would have been much different. 

A final reason is that the album of the same name created a romantic image that stayed with me, of cruising the wide open plains on an old boxcar, feet dangling, the country moving slowly by. The album cover shows Johnny sitting on top of an old boxcar, looking into the far distance, and in my head he’s looking towards the prairie, of distant opportunity. 

I know the reality of boxcar living was less romantic, hopping from train to train looking for work, town to town, dodging the beatings from the guards, but the romance of carefree travel is one that stayed with me. 

Back to Jacksonville, pivotal for the story of how the song came about, and I was there once, travelling from Tampa to New Orleans by train. There was lay-off of about eight hours, and I spent it on Jacksonsville station, unaware of its place in the song, watching long lines of freight trains going past and thinking of how great it would be to hop on and rumble into the distance, my mind on that album cover. 

For all of his great songs, Orange Blossom Special gets the top spot. 

 

Lost in Nashville is published by Manatee Books and is available in paperback and digital format here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Nashville-Neil-White/dp/1912347008/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510267687&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+in+nashville&dpID=51TrbUTk2JL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

Lost in Nashville

James Gray is a lawyer and his life is a success. Or at least, he thinks it is, but something is missing – a bond with his father, Bruce. Bruce Gray is old, retired and estranged from his family. He spends his time drinking and drifting in the small seaside town in England that James once called home. James decides to take Bruce on a road trip, to try and connect with his father through the one thing that has always united them: a love for Johnny Cash and his music. Together they travel through Johnny Cash’s life; where he grew up, the places he sang about – a journey of discovery about Johnny, the South and each other. Always fascinating, an evocative and emotional road trip, Lost In Nashville will captivate you, inform you and along the way may even break your heart

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December 24

Talking Serial Killers – Vol 1

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

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

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

Fhellboundirst is David McCaffrey’s reply:

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

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

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

You can read the full Q&A here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=463

 

In April I got to chat with Sarah Hilary:

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

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

My full interview with Sarah took place following the release of No Other Darkness and you can read it here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=743

 

 

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

Neil White:

neilWhy are readers attracted to serial killers?

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

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

So why the attraction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My review of The Domino Killer is here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=907

 

 

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July 24

Guest Post: Neil White – The Domino Killer

25643638Today I am delighted to welcome Neil White to the blog. Neil’s new thriller, The Domino Killer, is released on 30th July and my review appears below.  

Regular visitors to the blog may know that I like to ask my guests to discuss why they feel readers like stories about serial killers.  Today I ask Neil White to step into the spotlight and share his thoughts on our serial killer fascination.

 

Over to Neil: Why are readers attracted to serial killers?

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

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

So why the attraction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 24

The Domino Killer – Neil White

25643638When a man is found beaten to death in a local Manchester park, Detective Constable Sam Parker is one of the investigating officers. Sam swiftly identifies the victim, but what at first looks like an open and shut case quickly starts to unravel when he realises that the victim’s fingerprints were found on a knife at another crime scene, a month earlier.

Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Joe – a criminal defence lawyer in the city – comes face to face with a man whose very presence sends shockwaves through his life. Joe must confront the demons of his past as he struggles to come to terms with the darkness that this man represents.

Before long, Joe and Sam are in way over their heads, both sucked into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to change their lives for ever…

 

My thanks to Little, Brown UK who provided a review copy through Netgalley

 

The Domino Killer was my first introduction to Neil White’s books. The two central characters, Sam and Joe Parker, had clearly featured in previous books so the first question I have to address is “Does not knowing the back-story create any problems?” The answer would seem to be NO. I suspect that there are several elements which will reward returning readers that (as a new reader) I totally failed to grasp the significance of. However, as an introduction to the Parker brothers I found The Domino Killer to be a great read – important events and incidents from previous novels were explained (or discussed in such a way that I never got confused with the latest developments.

The book opens with a particularly nasty murder. In a lonely park on a dark evening a man is beaten to death, he dies clutching a bunch of flowers. An illicit rendezvous gone wrong perhaps? The police investigate but not much progress is being made. However, all this will change when a second murder is committed and the two deaths are found to be linked in the most unexpected of ways.

Meanwhile lawyer, Joe Parker, is called out late to meet a new client, a man who is accused of stealing and then torching his own car. What seems a routine client call is about to send Joe’s world into chaos – although he has never previously met his client he knows who he is as the two men are bound by a single event, one which has shaped Joe’s whole life.

The Domino Killer is a captivating read and the villain of the piece is one of the nastier characters I have encountered in recent reads. I enjoyed the fact the two Parker brothers adopt very different approaches to counter the perceived threat they feel they face. Sam, the policeman, follows procedure and acts within the confines of the law. His brother, Joe, is a defence lawyer – however, Joe has a secret that has haunted him for many a year and the Domino Killer knows this. Joe finds himself confronting a demon from his past and he is prepared to sacrifice friendships and his career to put the ghosts of his past to rest.

Neil White writes with an easy, entertaining and very readable style. The action ticks along at a great pace and I found I wanted to keep reading long after I should have been setting the book down. Although I only finished The Domino Killer within the last week or so I have already picked up a couple of Neil’s earlier books to add to my TBR pile.

 

The Domino Killer is published by Little, Brown UK Ltd and is available from 30th July in both hardback and digital formats.

Neil White is on Twitter: @neilwhite1965

He also has a wee corner of the internet at: http://www.neilwhite.net/

 

 

 

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