Earlier this year my day job changed and my daily commute suddenly involved 5 hours of driving. This ate into my reading time but a subscription to Audible meant I could listen to all the books I wasn’t getting a chance to read.
So after six months and many, many miles I thought I would share the books I enjoyed the most.
It should be noted that three audiobooks made it into the list of My Ten Favourite Books of 2017 it should come as no surprise that they are also included here (the first three).
Whiteout – Ragnar Jonasson
Whiteout sees the return of Jonasson’s popular Icelandic cop Ari Thor What made Whiteout special for me was the way the author took the smallest cast of possible suspects and made a brilliant “whodunnit” murder mystery. I have compared Ragnar Jonasson’s works to that of Agatha Christie in the past…Whiteout only reaffirms my assertion.
The Beauty of Murder – AK Benedict
The audiobook of The Beauty of Murder was recommended to me by JS Law (author of The Dark Beneath). Boy did he call that right! The Beauty of Murder is a serial killer story in which the killer has the ability to travel through time. Loved that twist and it gave The Beauty of Murder an edge which most books simply didn’t have. The time travel is not just a clever gimmick though, this is a wonderfully compassionate and clever story. With much of the action taking place in and around Cambridge University (with a Philosophy Lecturer as a lead character) it throws up some interesting discussion points too. Hugely enjoyable but with one of the saddest moments of my reading year too…
Block 46 – Johana Gustawsson
I was captivated by this tale which takes the reader from WW2 concentration camps to present day and shows how a serial killer was able to stay hidden for decades.
Two narrators on the audiobook really highlighted the “then” and “now” side to Block 46 and the story was outstanding.
This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay
I generally don’t read non-fiction, however, both my parents worked for the NHS and I grew up hearing about life in and around hospitals. When I learned of Adam Kay’s “secret diaries of a junior Doctor” I knew I had to read this book.
It was magnificent. I laughed, winced and shed a tear over his tales. Dr Adam narrates his own book and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Funny, graphic, sweary and over all too soon – I loved this!
Dark Suits and Sad Songs – Denzil Meyrick
My first DCI Daley thriller and I have already bought more in the series.
An explosive opening throws Daily into a political thriller which will have him facing unknown foes both from home and from far overseas.
With his home life in a shambles, his oldest friend and colleague battling a drink problem and an international hitman loose in his home town Daley is going to have a busy few days.
All with added UFO sightings too!
From The Cradle – Louise Voss & Mark Edwards
A chilling kidnap tale which kept me hooked.
The heart of the story is the investigation into the missing children and it was great following the ebb and flow of their enquries.
Louise Voss and Mark Edwards kept the twists and surprises coming throughout the story and it had an ending I would never have seen coming.
Storm Front – John Sandford
I love John Sandford’s books and the Virgil Flowers series (of which Storm Front is one) are well worth seeking out. They are consistently great crime thrillers yet Flowers brings the humour to his investigations which made Storm Front great listening.
Quieter Than Killing – Sarah Hilary
I am a huge fan of the Marnie Rome series but this was the first time I had “met” Marnie in audiobook. The narration by Imogen Church was fantastic, bringing much loved characters to life.
Quieter Than Killing is a great read but then I have never been disappointed in a Sarah Hilary novel – she writes stories with an edge.
Marnie is investigating a series of vicious beatings across London but she cannot tell if she is hunting a single person or a vigilante group. It is not long before the stakes are raised and danger will lie ahead.
The Girl in the Ice – Robert Bryndza
The first Erika Foster thriller and a dark and murderous tale from a frozen London. This was one of the first books I listened to (two more in the series soon followed) and I became a firm fan of Robert Bryndza’s wonderful thrillers.
Chase – Shaun Hutson
My last pick was the chilling Chase. I love a horror tale and Mr Hutson writes some of the best. An English couple are on a driving holiday in remote USA but the trip will bring them face to face with forces they could not have ever envisaged. Their dream holiday, tinged with tragedy even before they set off, becomes a nightmare roadtrip.
After rescuing a young girl from two killers the couple flee to keep the girl safe – the killers are in pursuit and they know the area far better than the holidaymakers.
Chilling and as nasty as I had anticipated – great listening.
Category: Audiobook | Comments Off on My Favourite Audiobooks – 2017
It’s winter, the nights are dark and freezing, and a series of seemingly random assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out onto streets of London. When Marnie’s family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by someone who knows her. Then a child goes missing, yet no-one has reported it. Suddenly, events seem connected, and it’s personal.
Someone out there is playing games. It is time for both Marnie and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. Keeping quiet can be a means of survival, but the effects can be as terrible as killing.
My thanks to Katie at Headline for my review copy and the chance to join the blog tour
Quieter Than Killing is the 4th book by Sarah Hilary to feature DI Marnie Rome. Each book can be read as a stand-alone novel but what you need to do is make sure you DO read all four books – they are all fantastic.
We readers are blessed with choice when it comes to police procedurals and crime thrillers, yet – for me – the Marnie Rome books stand head and shoulders above the others. Rome is a determined and focused detective who lives in the constant shadow of personal tragedy and it makes her own story utterly compelling.
In Quieter Than Killing, London is in the grip of a bitter winter and Marnie and DS Noah Jake are on the hunt for a violent offender. Someone has targeted three people for a vicious beating – disfiguring injuries have been inflicted and the only obvious link between the victims is that they have each (in the past) served time in prison for violent attacks of their own. Are Marnie and Noah looking for a vigilante? If so then how are they selecting their victims and what possible motive could they have?
Elsewhere the reader gets to see Finn. He is 10 years old and has been plucked from the street and locked into a house from which there seems no escape. His captor, dubbed Brady by Finn, has “rules” which Finn must obey…cooking and cleaning is expected and noise or disobedience are not tolerated. Finn is convinced Brady is a pervert who is planning to murder him, but Brady is keeping his distance and has been keeping Finn alive for several weeks. What does he need with the young boy and how much longer must Finn endure his captivity?
I got to enjoy Quieter Than Killing in audio and I need to give a massive thumbs-up to the narrator Imogen Church who voiced Marnie almost exactly how I had imagined her.
As with all of Sarah Hilary’s books the story is gripping, the clues well hidden and the entertainment is to the max. If you are not already reading these books you damn well should be.
It is Thursday 28th July 2016 and Sarah Hilary’s third Marnie Rome novel, Tastes Like Fear is released in paperback today. It seems like the perfect day to share Sarah’s contribution to my Serial Heroes feature.
I will be honest and confess that Fred Vargas was a name I had not heard before. By the time I had read through Sarah’s email I was clicking through to the Kindle store and I have two new books for my holiday.
Here is why:
I have in my hands the brand-new Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg book by French art historian turned crime writer, Fred Vargas. And I couldn’t be happier. It’s been over two years since her last Adamsberg book and so this, A Climate of Fear (her eighth in the series), is my post-edits treat to myself.
The series started with The Chalk Circle Man, which introduced us to Adamsberg, a true original, possibly the best since Sherlock Holmes. Jean-Baptiste is unlike any other fictional detective. An endearing and exasperatingly dreamy little detective from the Pyrenees who is never quite at home in Paris, where he works as a police commissionaire with a team of beguiling colleagues — you’ll fall for more than one of them — tackling crimes that touch on ancient legends, superstitions and vengeance.
Vargas (who chose her pen name from the character played by Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa) weaves history and legend into her stories. She has a genius for twisting a strand of the supernatural into her crime stories without breaking faith with the credibility of her plot. She’ll have you believing in vampires, werewolves and ghosts, before extracting a commonsensical explanation at the last moment.
Her most recently published story, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, saw a panic-stricken old woman journey to Paris to see Commissaire Adamsberg, the only policeman she trusts to help with the peculiar affliction that’s befallen her home village of Ordebec: ghostly horsemen targeting society’s rotten apples.
Adamsberg, beset by problems of his own, is glad of the excuse to escape Paris and strikes up a friendship with a village elder, Léone, who knows Ordebec’s strange cast of characters intimately. When Léone falls victim to the evil afoot, Adamsberg becomes determined to solve the case, aided and abetted by his own strange cast of helpmates — from the statuesque Retancourt and Veyrenc with his terrible rhyming couplets, to Danglard the drunken genius and Zerk, Adamsberg’s recently discovered son, whose stumbling relationship with his father is a joy to read.
In case all of this is sounding too whimsical to be a satisfying crime series, rest assured that Vargas is an expert at plotting and the twists come often and gleefully. There is always a surfeit of suspects, with dreamy and distracted Jean-Baptiste pushed to shuffle the clues from the red herrings.
Best of all, though, at least for this reader—you care deeply for Adamsberg and Danglard and their team. I don’t say you empathise with these characters; some of them are simply too strange. But Vargas isn’t interested in manipulating your emotions in any conventional sense.
She doesn’t deal in unreliable narrators or any other convention, trope or trend in crime fiction. She simply writes astoundingly differently. She dares to write this way, jumping from character to character across the page, inviting you to keep pace with her unruliness, her drollness, her poetry. This is anarchy. Joyful, disturbing anarchy. Because who else is daring to break these rules, and doing it with such panache?
SarahHilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, won the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year 2015 and was a World Book Night selection for 2016. The Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”) and a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, it has been published worldwide. NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second in the series was published in 2015. The Marnie Rome series continued in 2016 with TASTES LIKE FEAR.
Sarah is on Twitter: @Sarah_Hilary
Category: Guests | Comments Off on Guest Post – Sarah Hilary: Serial Heroes
This is the third Conversation guest post I have been able to share. I wish I could say that I had planned this wonderful symmetry, however, it is by sheer chance that my latest guests have both just released the third novel in their respective series.
Frequent visitors to Grab This Book will know that I am huge fan of The Girl Who series by Marnie Riches and also of Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome thrillers. I make no secret of the fact I enjoy the darker crime novels and Sarah and Marnie’s books have consistently scored my highest review scores as they write the books I love to read.
In my ongoing attempts to give my guests the best chance to discuss their books (away from an inflexible pre-prepared Q&A format) I was delighted when Sarah and Marnie agreed to join me to chat about their ‘kick ass’ heroines…and what-ever else that may crop up!
G: Marnie, we are starting our chat just a few days after the launch of The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows – the 3rd outing for George McKenzie. I have seen quite a few reviews suggesting that this is her darkest adventure thus far. The first two books were no gentle stroll in the park for George, so did you feel that you raised the stakes this time around?
MR: Thanks for this. My publisher had suggested I continue a theme of sexuality and traffic into this third book. I guess you don’t notice common themes emerging in your work until you’ve written more than one novel. So, it seemed appropriate to explore the subject matter of child-trafficking and paedophile rings in The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows. I felt I could do the topic justice. I still wanted the book to be a serial killer thriller, as I like to read that sort of thing myself, but I did have memories of the Madeleine McCann disappearance churning away in the back of my mind for years. It struck a chord with me as a parent – hence, a thriller with two mysteries at its heart emerged: Jack Frost with his lethal icicles, and the disappearance of the Deenen toddlers. So, yes. In a bid to avoid writing a samey, formulaic third installment in my series, I upped the ante and went darker and more complex. It seems to be going down well with readers.
What about you, Sarah? What demons did you face in coming up with a story-line for your third?
SH: Marnie, it’s interesting what you say about not noticing common themes until you’ve written a book or two. That really came home to me when I was writing book three. I knew I was affected by my family history – my mother was a child internee of the Japanese during WWII – but I hadn’t realised how strongly I felt about the twin themes of fear and captivity until I was writing Tastes Like Fear. It took a reader to point out that I often write about children who are trapped or taken, or both. Marnie’s backstory (love that you share a first name with my heroine, btw!) involves quite a lot of demon-facing, and at one level she’s trapped by her inability to let go of her past. So Tastes Like Fear works in terms of the standalone story, which is about lost teenagers thinking they’ve found a safe place, and the longer story that underpins the series.
Marnie, how far ahead do you plan in terms of George’s story? Do you know where she’s headed, or do you like to be surprised, book by book?
MR: Wow, Sarah. You have such an interesting family history. That must have been very difficult for your mother to get over, as childhood events have such an impact on adult life. In a similar vein to your Mum and Marnie Rome and George McKenzie, I endured traumatic events when I was younger (nothing like your mother’s experience, of course) where I was subject to being terrorized on a very rough council estate over a period of many years. My mother and I acted as magnets for the feral kids who roamed the estate in gangs. The petrol-bombing scene in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die actually happened to me, so that phenomenon of the fight or flight impulse never being far beneath the surface had to be a major characteristic in George, else she wouldn’t have been mine. Over the series, George works hard to subvert these destructive impulses that are a hangover from her earlier years.
I know George will follow an arc but I don’t know until I start to write exactly what shape that will take. She is not me, but her development is influenced by my own personal development to an extent. So, as she ages, she may have more control over her extremes of emotional and may be more stoic about the treacherous behaviour of family members, for example. I have to know what the standalone story will be for the next book – I have had to submit proposed outlines for The Girl Who Broke the Rules and The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows, to get my publisher’s prior approval – but George’s long game is mine to play…
You and I both have a toughie of a female protagonist, paired with somewhat beta males in Marnie & Noah and George & Van den Bergen. What made you choose that dynamic?
SH: Marnie, I may have some dark family history but how dreadful for you to have lived through such trauma as a child. By contrast I was fortunate enough to have an extremely secure and happy childhood. Which is perhaps why I gravitated towards horror stories and crime fiction as a way of expanding my emotional arsenal, vicariously as it were. I’ve not experienced even a little of what my Marnie has, but perhaps I’m channelling some creative demons into her? Hard to say, but I am wedded to her darkness. While I would like her to find peace from time to time, I have no end game in sight that would involve a ‘happily ever after’ scenario. Some people, I think, are born into the world to carry weight on their shoulders (I do know a little about this, personally) and Marnie is one of that breed. The world needs heroes like Marnie and George.
Do you love writing Van den Bergen as much as I love writing Noah? I’m not sure what drew me to the dynamic, but I find it fascinating (and useful, in terms of plot and character) to see Marnie through Noah’s eyes. Their relationship has changed a lot since Someone Else’s Skin. Marnie trusts Noah now, and she even confides in him. Has the dynamic between Van den Bergen and George changed as you’ve been writing the three (soon to be four) books?
MR: Van den Bergen is one of those people who carries a burden. He suffers with anxiety disorder and the occasional slide into full-on depression. I enjoy writing him because he’s such a loveable, cantankerous bastard with such unimpeachable morals. I like exploring his masculinity – it’s fascinating to be able to inhabit a man’s body and a man’s take on the world through my writing.
George, on the other hand, is an optimist at heart, with an incredible capacity to love, tempered by her worldly-wise cynicism. She’s a heroine because she’s had a hard start and has had to become extremely tough and resilient to survive and flourish. She has inner steel and discipline, where her family life is chaotic to say the least.
George and Van den Bergen were always attracted to one another – they respected each others’ grit, determination and attention to detail from the word go, as well as there being bonkers sexual chemistry. Their relationship has become more antagonistic over time, simply because of Van den Bergen’s anxiety about his age – there’s a twenty-year age gap. He drops the shutters on passionate George, who trusts him with her heart so readily. She wants to beat him to a pulp for it.
My main characters both contain a healthy dose of me but are fundamentally different. George is Black and young. Noah is a gay man. Neither Black women nor gay men are particularly well represented in crime fiction. How much of you is in your characters and what made you want to write Noah as gay?
SH: I will confess to a little wish fulfilment when it comes to Marnie, but there is nothing of me in my characters. It’s pure imagination. I wish I had Marnie’s courage and her dry wit, and that I’d been a rebellious teenager, even just for a short while. But I was a very good girl; maybe I’m acting out a fantasy of a misspent youth …
When it comes to Noah, I’m not sure why I wanted to write him as gay, other than as you say, because of under-representation in the genre. I’ve written quite a lot of gay men, so I knew I could do it and I knew that I’d enjoy writing him. A half-Jamaican openly and happily gay man, who happens to also be a detective sergeant with the Met Police. The only conscious decision I made was that his race and sexuality wouldn’t define him. I didn’t want to write about a conflicted character who felt the lash of homophobia and racism every day, or struggled to find personal and professional happiness. Noah is extremely content in his own skin. He goes home to a happy, secure life. He’s armour-plated against the casual bullying in the workplace; nothing fazes him, or not for long. I love Noah.
Let’s talk about our supporting cast. Are there any characters in the standalone plots within each book which you’d like to see return in future books? Or any you’d consider for a spin-off series of their own?
MR: Similarly, it was a conscious choice for me to make George mixed race, as commercial crime fiction is a very white realm and I wanted to redress that balance somewhat in having a strong Black female lead – most importantly, a lead who isn’t a victim and whose strength does not lie in typically masculine characteristics.
As far as reprising the roles of secondary characters goes, both family members and key figures in the criminal underworld crop up repeatedly in the standalone stories. They are essential to the overarching themes that span the series – George’s relationship to her parents and an examination of the rotten heart of trafficking. But George and Van den Bergen are very much the stars. At this stage, I can’t envisage spin-offs. I would, however, like to see more of Silas Holm. In The Girl Who Broke the Rules, he is one of George’s study subjects – an amputee convicted serial murderer and award-winning anaesthetist. He’s intelligent, charming and warped as hell. I think we might see him putting in another appearance. I’ll think on it…
What about you? Do you think you’ll tire of writing about Marnie and Noah? Are there subsidiary characters who would make interesting main protagonists themselves? I’ve worked hard to keep all three of my books familiar and yet, distinctly different from one another – especially The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows. What about you? Are you concerned about your writing becoming formulaic over time, as is often the problem with longer running series?
SH: Silas Holm is a great name as well. I can see a spin-off series for Silas.
One reader did suggest that Noah’s reprobate kid brother, Sol, should have his own series, but I dunno. Someone else would have to write it, I think. I’m too busy – and happy – writing Marnie and Noah. I’m quite intrigued by the idea of some early (pre-series) stories, maybe about Marnie’s wild youth, or Noah’s adventures growing up. Although I do think most of my interest lies in unwrapping them further as the series progresses. Marnie, especially, is still keeping secrets from me (Marnie is made of secrets). In Tastes Like Fear, Noah surprised me with a big secret from his youth, so maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve, also. As long as they can keep evolving as characters then I don’t need to worry about becoming formulaic.
What long-running crime series do you most enjoy? I’ve just discovered Mick Herron’s stupendous spy thriller series that started with Slow Horses. And I’m a sucker for Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series.
MR: I’ve enjoyed Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series best, I guess. He’s been going for many, many books and the stories still work well as standalones. By Phantom, however, I did think it was time to wrap things up for Harry and I’m surprised that Police was released. Despite that, it was an enjoyable read. I read a lot of kids’ fiction too, as I used to write that. I enjoyed many of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books and also Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy was brill but I haven’t yet read Lagercrantz’s fourth offering, so my jury is out on that.
I think the joy of a great series is knowing when to stop. Personally, I think George has a good few more stories in her, but I will have to make swingeing changes to the cast list to keep it fresh overall. As long as readers want her, I will write her. Heroines like her come once in a writer’s lifetime – she’s certainly too good to shelve after a mere handful of books. She still has plenty to say!
SH: Long live George and Marnie! Great chat, thanks for hosting, Gordon, and a big thank you to our readers who keep us motivated to write more stories with our series characters.
I would like to extend a massive ‘Thank You’ to Sarah and Marnie for giving me the opportunity to eavesdrop on their conversation. As you can see my involvement was minimal but I don’t have the words to describe how much I enjoyed seeing their chat come together.
The young girl who causes the fatal car crash disappears from the scene.
A runaway who doesn’t want to be found, she only wants to go home.
To the one man who understands her.
Gives her shelter.
Just as he gives shelter to the other lost girls who live in his house.
He’s the head of her new family.
D.I. Marnie Rome has faced many dangerous criminals but she has never come up against a man like Harm. She thinks that she knows families, their secrets and their fault lines. But as she begins investigating the girl’s disappearance nothing can prepare her for what she’s about to face.
Because when Harm’s family is threatened, everything tastes like fear…
My thanks to Elizabeth Masters at Headline for my review copy.
The third Marnie Rome thriller and another triumph for Sarah Hilary. Tastes Like Fear is a gripping read and is helping cement Sarah Hilary’s place amongst the best of the current crop of UK crime writers.
Tastes Like Fear has a focus on teenage runaways, girls who have left home and found themselves living rough on the streets of London. The girls have found that they become almost invisible, doing whatever it takes to survive. Yet for a select few there comes an offer of a place of safety – a home where food and shelter will be provided. All you have to do is live by the house rules, his rules…Harm’s rules.
Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake have been investigating the disappearance of May Beswick a teenage girl who left home (for no apparent reason) and has been missing for several weeks. We are first reunited with Marnie and Noah when they are called to the scene of a road traffic accident – a teenage girl in a state of disarray has walked into the traffic causing a crash. The girl has left the scene, heading towards one of London’s more notorious housing schemes, yet there appears to be some doubt between the survivors of the crash as to what the girl looked like or even if she was ever there!
I enjoyed the shifting focus in Tastes Like Fear, the story follows Marnie and Noah and their investigations into May’s disappearance and the attempts to track down the girl from the crash scene. Then the narrative switches into the ‘haven’ that Harm is providing and we see how the girls who are living under his protection are dealing with day to day life under Harm’s watchful eye. There is a real feeling of unease as you read these scenes – an unpredictability – as Harm does not seem to act how you expect him to (yet you are also not quite sure how he SHOULD be acting).
However, as you may expect trouble lies ahead for the girls as rules have been broken, some girls have not behaved the way Harm expected and there will be…repercussions.
With all the twists and turns, shocks and surprises that I have come to expect from one of Sarah Hilary’s books I found that I could not put Tastes Like Fear down. The story flows brilliantly, the characters are the perfect blend of likeable, unpredictable or deeply deplorable and we get more insights into Noah and Marnie’s personal lives giving loved characters even greater depth.
There is also the added anticipation of what I am beginning to think of as ‘The Sarah Hilary Jaw-drop Moment’…one scene where everything I thought I understood about the story is crushed and I am blind-sided by a twist that I can never see coming. LOVE IT, nobody else consistently messes with my brain in their books the way Sarah Hilary can – she has the golden touch.
An easy review score for Tastes Like Fear…5/5 and a reader desperate for more.
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:
First 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.”
Why 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.
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:
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.
That 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
December already and time to look back over 2015 and draw up my Top Ten reads of the year. Before I start I would like to thank all the authors and publishers that have trusted me with their books, shared my reviews and (on exciting occasions) quoted my reviews. Your support keeps this blog running and I am grateful beyond measure.
Reading and blogging is not the solitary venture as you may believe. I would like to thank all the authors who gave up some of their valuable time to join me during 2015 (answering my Q&A’s and providing guest posts). Special thanks at this time to Marnie Riches for many, many Twitter name-checks and to Alexandra Sokoloff for her phenomenal guest feature on Serial Killers (found here).
I would also thank my fellow bloggers who help my reviews reach a wider audience, give me guidance when I hit a blank and provide the support I need to keep me going – too many to name individually but special thanks to Liz, Sonya, Sophie, Lou and Shaun.
So the books – Ten in all. The ones I recommended most throughout the year or the stories which stick with me long after I have finished reading – with my goldfish memory it takes something special to remain memorable.
They are not ranked in any order…but the last three on the list ARE my three most recommended for the year!
No Other Darkness – Sarah Hilary
The second Marnie Rome thriller from Sarah Hilary and it did everything that I hoped it would do. Terrified, entertained, developed the characters that I had really liked from her debut novel and it left me pining for more. I read No Other Darkness in January so my wait for Book 3 must hopefully be nearing an end! Review here
Hellbound – David McCaffrey
David McCaffrey took the serial killer story and did something totally unexpected – the concept he explored was one I now often consider when I read other murder stories. Hellbound was engrossing, thought provoking and a bloody good story too. David kindly agreed to take part in a Q&A and he was the first to be asked what I came to call my “Serial Killer” question – this question has subsequently featured many times throughout the year (and will be revisited in a special feature post soon). The Serial Killer question only came about because of Hellbound – my thanks to David for that inspiration, every different answer fascinates me. Review Here.
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die – Marnie Riches
Explosive opening and a punchy heroine in George McKenzie I was hooked on The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die from the outset. I loved the Amsterdam setting, I loved the dynamic between George and the Dutch police. I got frustrated by the characters, I hated the bullies and I was delighted that Marnie Riches did not sugar coat the violence of her villains. Dark and nasty is how I like a crime story. (Review Here)
Evil Games – Angela Marsons
Angela Marsons released three books this year featuring lead character Kim Stone. Evil Games was the second of the three and although I could easily be writing about the third book (Lost Girls) in this space I just felt that Evil Games edged it. The clinching factor in Evil Games inclusion in this list was the character playing the Evil Games – no spoilers but the villain in Evil Games wins my ‘Best Baddie of 2015’ award. If you have not yet read any of the books in this series then you need to put that right as soon as possible. (Review here).
Snowblind (Dark Iceland) – Ragnar Jonasson
Snowblind stands out in my selection of ten as it is the least frenetic of the books but it reads beautifully. The storytelling, the scene setting, the characterization and the sheer sense of being part of the story made Snowblind an easy pick for my list. (Review here)
The Killing Lessons – Saul Black
In the height of summer (while lying beside a Spanish swimming pool) I was transported to a dark, snowy American wood as I read about a young girl fleeing the family home to escape a pair of killers that had murdered her mother and brother. The Killing Lessons just ticked all the right boxes for me. A cleverly written slick thriller that follows the cops, the killers and the victim they missed. (Review here)
Breathe – David Ince
How can you not love a book that is the first book in The Meat Puppet Trilogy? Breathe is non-stop action. A chase scene from first page to last. Random and unexpected deaths, blackmail, terror and a mysterious criminal figure commanding an army of unwilling foot soldiers. It will keep you turning page after page and promising yourself ‘just one more chapter’. (Review here)
The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson
In my Top Three because it just kept blowing me away with the twists I did not see coming. So many clever, clever twists. A nightmare to review without giving away plot twists because it is so damned twisty. Did I mention the twists? If you enjoy a murder story and you don’t mind knowing who the murderer is then this is the book for you. But the police are on the trail of our killer and you start to think that this time you would quite like to see them fail – and it looks like they will! (Review Here)
Tenacity – J.S. Law
In the Top Three because I loved it. From the stunning opening sequence through to the claustrophobic submarine scenes and the brilliant finale which left me screaming for more chapters – I just could not get enough of this book. Everyone should read Tenacity. (Review here)
Untouchable – Ava Marsh
Also in the Top Three this year is Untouchable by Ava Marsh. The protagonist is a high class call girl and the story takes an unflinching look at her lifestyle. Untouchable stood out this year as a book quite unlike any I had read. The treatment of the characters was handled superbly and any judgements on the characters is made entirely by the reader. Contains scenes of violence and explicit sexual content so perhaps not suitable for everyone but if that stops you reading a fantastic story then it is your loss. I recommend this book to everyone (except my mum coz of the rude bits). (Review here)
Today I am delighted to be able to welcome Sarah Hilary back to Grab This Book. Sarah’s second Marnie Rome novel No Other Darkness has just released in paperback and today’s visit is my leg of the Blog Tour.
I know Sarah is a horror fan and I was keen to find out if this filtered through into her writing:
It’s alive! Tapping the rich vein of horror
by Sarah Hilary
If you have a sofa handy this might be the moment to duck behind it. Because I’m going to riff about how much I love horror. This will come as no surprise to readers of my Marnie Rome series. No Other Darkness starts in an underground bunker, and doesn’t really let up until the very end.
Adding a dash of horror is a worthy tradition in literature; the Brothers Grimm were writing about cannibalism a century before Thomas Harris gave us Hannibal Lector, and it’s hard to beat the Room 101 rats in Orwell’s 1984 for nail-biting nightmare potential.
Crime writers have known this trick for decades, seasoning our stories with a dash of darkness. Arthur Conan Doyle served it up in spades, from The Hound of the Baskervilles to The Creeping Man.
Contemporary crime writers use horror to great effect, too. Mo Hayder’s Tokaloshe in Ritual and its sequel, Skin, is a blood-curdling example of how a skilled writer can weave a disturbing sense of the supernatural into hard-hitting crime stories. French crime writer, Fred Vargas, has given us ghosts, werewolves, plague rats and vampires. Enough supernatural horror to satisfy any aficionado, although Vargas (like Hayder) does a neat line in explaining everything in rational terms in the end.
Horror works best when it’s used sparingly. A surfeit can force the reader to look away or worse—to laugh in order to relieve the tension. Maestros know this and will provide a little light relief so that you chuckle in the intended places (usually right before you jump a foot in the air). The very best exponent of this is George A. Romero, one of my favourite film directors. Yes, zombies can be funny — cheerleader zombies, barbershop quartet zombies, Hari Krishna zombies — but always watch out for your feet and elbows. (If I have a criticism of The Walking Dead it’s that it lacks a sense of humour.)
A glimpse of the monster under the bed (or in it) is always more effective than a lingering twelve page forensic examination. Plant a seed, refer to it on occasion to be sure the idea doesn’t die in the reader’s mind, let their imagination get to work. Then—let them have it.
No Other Darkness, I hope, lets you have it with both barrels.
There’s a little horror lurking in everyone’s head. My job is to let that little horror out to play.
Today sees the publication of Sarah Hilary’s No Other Darkness. Last week, with publication day fast approaching Sarah kindly took some time to answer a few of my questions, I am delighted to be able to share our conversation:
We are just a couple of weeks away from publication of your second Marnie Rome novel – No Other Darkness. Are the nerves kicking in yet or have the early reviews been reassuring?
I’ve had some incredibly encouraging early reviews, it’s true —and from readers who loved Someone Else’s Skin —so that’s helped the nerves a little. But these are Second Novel Nerves, so I wasn’t expecting to get off scot-free. No Other Darkness is such a different story to Someone Else’s Skin, but I think readers are going to enjoy following Marnie and Noah down this new path.
At the end of Someone Else’s Skin both Marnie and her colleague, Noah Jake, had been put through the wringer. Can you bring us up to speed as to where we will join them at the outset of No Other Darkness?
Six months have passed since the end of Someone Else’s Skin. Noah has recovered physically, and he and Marnie are a closer team now—they won’t make the same mistakes they made in that first story. Marnie is starting to open up to Noah, and readers will see some great teamwork between them in this new book.
Apologies if this is a little cryptic for those yet to read No Other Darkness. I have two sons who are 5 and 8. For reasons I am sure you can appreciate I found certain elements of the book very tough to read. Were you specifically targeting a parent’s fear as you wrote?
Not specifically, no. That said, I’m a parent myself and it was tough to write some of the chapters in the book. But I feel that’s what good books should do —challenge the writer and the reader, and provoke strong emotions, from fear to relief.
I felt that DS Jake played a larger role in No Other Darkness than he did in Someone Else’s Skin. Was that my imagination or was there greater focus on his character in this book?
There was. Partly, I think, because Marnie is learning to trust him and involve him more closely. She relies on his instinct a lot in this new story, and Noah’s instinct is pretty damn good. He has a kid brother too, so the story affects him at a personal level.
Did work begin on No Other Darkness before Someone Else’s Skin went on general release? If so, did you have to adapt your work in progress once reviews and comments started to appear for the first book?
I’d finished the first draft of No Other Darkness before Someone Else’s Skin was published, but a lot of the editing went on while reviews were coming in. In particular, it was interesting to see how readers reacted to the characters of Marnie and Noah. Those reactions have had a definite impact on the third book, Tastes Like Fear, which I’m working on now. I’m a great believer in the collaborative nature of writing/reading. The story comes alive in the hands of readers, so their responses are always hugely important and inspirational for me. (No pressure, readers.)
In my review I made a slightly glib comment that you had a Big Book of Horrible Things and suggested you were working your way through this book to unnerve your readers. Is it coincidence that your first two novels tackled issues which could be considered chilling? And I am aware that my question indirectly makes it sound like a simple ‘murder’ story could be considered humdrum and commonplace?
That’s very interesting because quite a few readers have said that they find Someone Else’s Skin chilling precisely because the crime seems so commonplace. I think it’s all in the telling. Any story can be scary if it’s told in a particular way, if you choose to get under the skin of your characters or to take your readers inside their heads. The Collector by John Fowles is a great example of how to be supremely chilling by digging into the depths of the mundane.
Am I correct in thinking that Someone Else’s Skin is being adapted for broadcast? Are you (or do you expect to become) involved in any of the process such as casting or scripting?
The series rights have been sold, yes, and it’s in the early stages of development. I’m not directly involved in casting or scripting, but I’m working collaboratively with the team which is very exciting. And of course I’m dream-casting all the time. I desperately want Jason Watkins (from Being Human, and The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies) to play one of the protagonists in No Other Darkness. You’ll probably be able to guess which one.
Are you a fan of horror films and books? The dark edge that I now associate with your books make me wonder if you are influenced by scary stories.
Yes, yes I am—a huge fan of horror, especially films. I love being scared, really love it. George A Romero is a hero of mine, and I can still remember the thrill of seeing John Carpenter’s The Thing for the first time. I used to haunt the Scala cinema in Kings Cross during its All-Nighter days —back to back zombies in a building that was London’s first (and last) primatorium. Happy days.
Expanding on the last question, who would you cite as your influences?
Writing-wise, I’d say everyone from PG Wodehouse and Muriel Spark to Patricia Highsmith and Thomas Harris, by way of Georgette Heyer and Stephen King. I love all things Gothic too, from Dracula to Gormenghast.
Will we see Marnie return or have you plans to tackle something else first?
Marnie will be back in book three, Tastes Like Fear, early in 2016. After which I’ll be working on book four in the series. No rest for the wicked, thank goodness.
One of my favourite questions and I would be keen to know your thoughts on this: why 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.
Finally, you seem to be in my neck of the woods later this month for the Aye Write festival. Then much closer to home you will be at Crimefest. Does the fun at a festival outweigh the inconvenience of travelling and of disruptions to your work and home commitments? James Oswald suggested the biggest problem at some events seems to be ensuring the bar does not have any booze left at the end of the night!
James speaks an imperial truth. I do love a festival, especially if I can work alongside other writers. I had the best fun at Gateshead Library with Mari Hannah and David Mark earlier this year, despite having a stinking cold and having travelled six hours on a train to get there. Spending time with other writers —and readers —is a great way to remind myself of how lucky I am to be doing my dream job.
Many thanks to Sarah.
No Other Darkness is published by Headline and is available now in paperback and digital format. My review can be found here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=468
Sarah Hilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, was the Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”), a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, and has been published worldwide. NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second in the series, is out in 2015. The Marnie Rome series is being developed for television.
Two young boys. Trapped underground in a bunker. Unable to understand why they are there. Desperate for someone to find them. Slowly realising that no-one will…
Five years later, the boys’ bodies are found and the most difficult case of DI Marnie Rome’s career begins.
Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them.
For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this…
Thanks to Sarah Hilary and Elizabeth Masters at Headline for my review copy.
Last year Sarah Hilary introduced us to DI Marnie Rome in her debut novel Someone Else’s Skin. I was a big fan of this dark (and frequently disturbing) thriller. It also contained my standout scene of the year – read my review here:
Now Marnie Rome is back and Sarah Hilary has knocked it out of the park for us yet again. Marnie and her colleague DS Noah Jake make their return in No Other Darkness, another story that will entertain and unsettle in equal measure.
The story opens with Marnie and Noah called in to investigate a chilling discovery: the bodies of two young boys which were hidden in a bunker that was concealed under the garden of a suburban housing scheme. There are no clues within the bunker as to the identity of the boys so where does Marnie start? How could two children just disappear without anyone noticing or reporting them missing?
For this reader there was an added element of discomfort in reading the opening pages of No Other Darkness as my own children (also boys) are the same age as the boys in the bunker. It is not often I am unsettled while reading fiction yet for the second book in a row it seems Sarah Hilary has managed to mess with my head!
Marnie’s investigations progress and as she starts to draw closer to identifying the children the readers get to understand why the boys were in the bunker and, crucially, why they were not let back out again. Sarah Hilary is able to keep the story flowing at a great pace and I found that I did not want to stop reading, there was a necessity to see where the story was going.
I previously alluded to Someone Else’s Skin having a standout moment – this was a scene where my understanding of the story turned out to be completely incorrect and everything changed. In No Other Darkness a similar sucker-punch arises where a murder investigation suddenly becomes <REDACTED>. Sorry, but you will have to read for yourself to discover what lies in store.
Having tackled domestic violence in her first book and now the deaths of young children in her second novel I am almost scared to consider what may be next from Sarah Hilary. I could almost believe she has a Big Book of Horrible Things and is working her way through the nastiest of the concepts just to un-nerve her readers. She is doing a great job!
Back to No Other Darkness and outwith the investigations we get to learn a bit more about Marnie and DS Jake. For Marnie there are insights into her history when a former lover appears on the scene. He is a reporter and is offering to share information (on his own terms).
Yet I felt that within No Other Darkness there was more focus on Noah Jake and I believe that we got a better look into his background and some of the problems that he has overcome. I also noticed a greater focus on some of Marnie’s other colleagues, more so than had been present in Someone Else’s Skin. I am hoping that Sarah Hilary is planning much more from Marnie and her team.
A tricky review in that there are several key elements of the plot that I am keen not to discuss so that I can avoid revealing any spoilers. Worry not, however, as this is a brilliant crime thriller and there are twists and scares a-plenty.
For fans of Someone Else’s Skin you can rest assured that No Other Darkness is of an equally high quality. Sarah Hilary writes dark and engrossing stories – everyone needs to read them.
Review scored at 4.5 out of 5 – compelling yet unsettling.