Festival Round Up & Colin Dexter

As I’m trying to read two books at the moment, I don’t have a book review for this week. I thought instead that I’d tell you about some great book festivals that are coming up, starting this Saturday.

Deal Noir

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On this Saturday 25th March is Deal Noir, over on the Kent coast. I think tickets are still available and at only £25, this is a real steal. Click here for the full list of speakers but to whet your appetite, you can expect Steph Broadribb, Rod Reynolds, Fiona Cummins, SJI Holliday, Daniel Pembrey, Mark Hill, Louise Voss…  This should be excellent!

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ChipLitFest

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This runs 27th-30th April in Chipping Norton. I went last year, just for the Saturday, and I had a great time. Not restricted to crime, there are lots of different authors to choose from including Tony Robinson, Jenny Colgan and Nadiya Hussain. But if Crime is your thing then you can’t go wrong with Sharon Bolton, Clare Mackintosh and Ian Rankin. Click here to find out more.

 

 

CrimeFest

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This is one of the big crime writing festivals and takes place in Bristol 18th -21st May. There are a huge amount of authors taking part in the panels but there are plenty more who are just turning up for the hell of it. But to give you a little taster, Julia Crouch, Sarah Hilary, Marnie Riches, Sam Carrington, Ragnar Jonasson are only down to appear plus a very special session with Ann Cleves. You can find out more here

 

 

 

Winchester Writers’ Festival

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Moving to June now, the Winchester Writers’ Festival takes place 16th-18th June. This is a bit different as it’s more for aspiring authors rather than readers. If you like the idea of writing crime then there’s a workshop with William Ryan. Click here to find out more.

 

 

Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival

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This is perhaps the biggest of all the crime writing festivals and takes place in Harrogate on 20th-23rd July. Headlining this year is Lee Child, Kathy Reichs and Ian Rankin. Val McDermid will run her popular New Blood panel which features the new top debut authors of 2017. This year, Val has chosen Jane Harper (The Dry), Joseph Knox (Sirens), Kristen Lepionka (The Last Place You Look) and, one of my favourite debuts so far this year – Fiona Cummins (Rattle). To find out more click here

 

 

 

I can’t finish this blog without mentioning the sad news that Colin Dexter died yesterday. It was the TV series with John Thaw that introduced me to Inspector Morse but once I started reading the novels, I was hooked. I used to take them out of my local library and devour them. I remember crying my eyes out when Morse died in The Remorseful Day. As good as the TV version was, it didn’t always capture the subtleties and nuances of the books. More than anything, I will miss spotting Colin Dexter doing his cameos in the programmes. If you want to read an incredibly moving tribute to Colin Dexter then click here for Val McDermid’s article in The Guardian.

Exciting times… and a book review – Rupture by Ragnar Jonasson

I was very excited yesterday to receive an email from Women Writers to say that the article I’d written for them was now online. When they first approached me to write something, I was very flattered but I did explain that, although I’m writing crime books, I’m not published. I thought they wouldn’t want someone unpublished writing for them but I was wrong! They said they would love me to write an article for them and I had free rein on subject matter. The only thing I could think of was my first year in blogging so that’s what I wrote about and you can read it here.

I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to write another article but it’s a very different discipline to writing a novel or a blog.

But before I get all big-headed, let’s get back to the books! I read Rupture by Ragnar Jonasson a couple of weeks ago.

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The blurb

1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjorour. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it beomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all…

In nearby Siglufjorour, young policeman Ari Thor tries to piece together what really happened that fateful night, in a town where no one wants to know, where secrets are a way of life. He’s assisted by Isrun, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own. Things take a sinister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town of Siglufjorour in quarantine, the past might just come back to haunt them.

My review

This is the second book that I’ve read by Ragnar Jonasson but it’s the fourth in the Dark Iceland series, featuring police officer Ari Thor (yes, I’ve missed out books again). However, it’s possible to read this as a standalone.

I love the way that Jonasson finds a use for Ari Thor when his town, Siglufjorour, is in quarantine. A traveller to Siglufjorour dies from a haemorrhagic fever and the doctors believe it to be highly contagious. So everyone has to stay home except  those in the emergency services. As there is no crime to investigate, Ari Thor has time to look into an old cold case of a woman who died in a remote part of Iceland. Feeling that sense of isolation helps him as he tries to unlock the secrets of the past.

In Reykjavik though, there is no quarantine and crime appears to be in abundance. A stalker, a missing child and a young man killed in a hit and run accident. Seen from different points of view, including Isrun – a news reporter, Jonasson skilfully weaves the stories in and out of each other, much like dancers round a maypole. You’re not sure what pattern has been created until the end.

Jonasson is excellent at creating atmosphere in settings, whether it’s through snow or volcanic ash. In this case, the sense of Siglufjorour being a ghost town, isolated from the outside and people terrified to leave their houses, is superb. To say it’s eerie is an understatement.

Hopefully with the next book, we’ll see more of Ari Thor. Although I liked Isrun and found her backstory to be intriguing, it’s Ari Thor who’s the real pull here. Can’t think why…

 

I’d like to give a shout out to a couple of people who are involved in this book. Firstly the designer of the cover. Orenda Books always have fabulous covers and Rupture is no different. But do you want to know what’s really clever about this particular cover? You have to turn it on its side to see.

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Isn’t it clever?

The other person I want to highlight is the translator, Quentin Bates. He faithfully translates Ragnar’s books, ensuring that he keeps the quality and feeling of the original Icelandic – no mean achievement!

You can find out more about Ragnar Jonasson and buy his books here

 

First Monday Crime – March

First Monday was back last night with three very established authors and a new boy in town. Erin Kelly, MJ Arlidge, Julia Crouch and debut author, Daniel Cole, answered Barry Forshaw’s questions.

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First up – speed sell your book!

MJ Arlidge – Hide and Seek is the 6th book in the DI Helen Grace series. This time though, Helen finds herself in prison, framed for a murder she didn’t commit. But even in jail, she doesn’t stop being a detective. When someone is found dead in the cell next to hers, Helen Grace knows she has to find the killer before she becomes the next victim.

Erin Kelly – He Said/She Said is a standalone psychological thriller. Kit and Laura are part of the eclipse chasing community. During an eclipse they saw something terrible. They then become the star witnesses in a rape trial, except Laura makes a mistake and tells a little white lie that has devastating consequences.

Julia Crouch – Her Husband’s Lover is almost impossible to talk about because of all the twists (something I know well having just reviewed it – you can read my review here)! Told in the past and the present, we follow the story of Louisa who survived a car crash and Sophie, lover of Louisa’s now dead husband.

Daniel Cole – Ragdoll is set in London. Written originally as a screenplay, we’re introduced to Detectives William Fawkes and Emily Baxter, as they try to find the Ragdoll Killer. A body is discovered hanging like a puppet. But instead of it being one person, it’s made up from different body parts from six individuals. A difficult case is made even harder when a list of six names – potential new victims – is released to the media.

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Barry Forshaw asked lots of different questions so I’m just going to give you a snapshot of some of those answers.

Best way to describe Ragdoll – like the film ‘Seven’ but funnier.

Is Domestic Noir misogynistic? No, said Julia Crouch. Instead of women being victims or relegated to being mothers or sisters or the naïve WPC, she prefers to write about women who can be bad. The Spirit of Punk – you can do whatever you want!

Is MJ Arlidge a woman? No, but often readers think so because Matt has a female protagonist. But he’s used to strong female leads as he works on Silent Witness.

Daniel Cole’s favourite author – JK Rowling.

Why did Erin Kelly write the novelisation for Broadchurch? She was out of contract and wanted to write a book without having to think up a story. And she wanted to meet David Tennant. Sadly, the latter hasn’t happened. Yet.

To the question – are there too many crime novels? – the general consensus was no. Julia Crouch highlighted bloggers who really help to publicise books through blog tours, reviews and interviews. Crime readers are very passionate.

And finally, what are our fantastic four authors reading?

Daniel – Himself by Jess Kidd

Julia – Good Me/Bad Me by Ali Land

Matt – Carrie and The Shining by Stephen King

Erin – Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

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First Monday will be back on Monday 3rd April. As yet, I haven’t heard any whispers of who might be on the panel. Whoever it is, I’m sure I’ll be gutted as I can’t make it (family birthday so I do have a good excuse). It’s the first one that I’ll have missed but there is always live tweeting during the event so check out @1stMondayCrime on Twitter if you can’t make it. Keep an eye on https://www.goldsborobooks.com/events/ for details for April.

To find out more about the authors and their books (and perhaps buy or pre-order)

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MJ Arlidge – click here

Erin Kelly – click here

Daniel Cole – click here

Julia Crouch – click here

 

 

First Monday Crime – Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch

First Monday Crime returns next week on the 6th March, 6.30-7.30pm at Browns in St Martin’s Lane, London, with a killer of a panel. Do you remember my clues from last month?

A former graphic designer now the Queen of Domestic Noir – Julia Crouch

A writer who has had a book adapted for TV and in turn, has adapted a TV series into books – Erin Kelly

A debut novelist who is more than used to flashing lights and the sound of sirens – Daniel Cole

A very experienced author who has worked on, written for and produced some of the best crime dramas on TV – MJ Arlidge

Barry Forshaw will be in charge of proceedings.

I’ve had the opportunity to read Julia Crouch’s latest novel – Her Husband’s Lover. Thank you to Julia Crouch and Headline.

Book Blurb

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After the horrors of the past, Louisa Williams is desperate to make a clean start.

Her husband Sam is dead. Her children, too, are gone, victims of the car accident in which he died. Sam said that she would never get away from him. That he would hound her to death if she tried to leave. Louisa never thought that he would want to harm their children though. But then she never thought that he would betray her with a woman like Sophie. And now Sophie is determined to take all that Louisa has left. She wants to destroy her reputation and to take what she thinks is owed her – the life she would have had if Sam had lived.

Her husband’s lover wants to take her life.

 

 

My review

It’s fair to say that quite a lot of crime books tend to start with a bit of a bang. Her Husband’s Lover doesn’t just ‘hit the ground running’ though. I liken it more to a gymnastic floor routine with twists and turns and somersaults aplenty. Just when you think you’ve worked out what’s going on, there’s a 2 and half twist with pike and you’re none the wiser. Told with three viewpoints – Louisa, Sophie and Adam – the story moves back and forth between the past and the present. Although the seasons change in the past scenes, the present is set against the backdrop of a heatwave in London. Julia Crouch manages to capture that intense, heavy heat that you get in cities until I could almost smell it.

But there is more to this book than eloquent descriptions. Since reading Gone Girl, I’m always on the alert for unreliable narrators. It’s hard to separate the truths and the lies in this story. It was this that drove me on to keep reading – to find out the truth. I was torn between reading constantly and having to stop to take breath. The pace is almost relentless. But Crouch’s brilliance is characterisation. One minute I loved a character, then suspicious, then hated, before going back to loved. Multi-faceted and multi-flawed, the two women, Louisa and Sophie, are polar opposites of each other and Adam is the only balanced one, innocence personified. I particularly identified with Louisa during pregnancy and early motherhood. The sense that the reality of motherhood is so much harder than you thought possible, the failures and the utter hopelessness that surrounds you. If only Louisa, like me, had turned to chocolate. Not great for the figure but generally safer all round.

There is so much more I could say but I risk giving away spoilers. I am generally more attuned at spotting twists now but there was a major one in this book that I did not see coming at all! And I won’t say anymore than that. Using the old gymnastic scoring system (the new one is far too complicated), I give Her Husband’s Lover a perfect 10.

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After a drama degree at Bristol University, Julia Crouch spent ten years devising, directing and writing for the theatre. During this time she had twelve plays produced and co-founded Bristol`s Public Parts Theatre Company. She has written four novels previously, including the highly-acclaimed CUCKOO.

She lives in Brighton with her husband, the actor and playwright Tim Crouch, and their three children.

You can find out more about Julia Crouch and buy her books here and you can follow her on Twitter @ThatJuliaCrouch

 

Tickets are still available for First Monday Crime. Click here to find out more and buy tickets.

Blog Tour – Sealskin by Su Bristow

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Book Blurb:

Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous… and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence? Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance.

My review:

Sometimes, it’s good to have a break from reading crime books. Sealskin did indeed transport me away from the gritty reality of crime as Su Bristow conjured up the sights, sounds and smells of the Scottish coast. Cleverly, there isn’t a set time period for this book so that, although we know it’s not recent history, we’re not bogged down by historical accuracies – we’re simply captivated by the story. And what a story! And what a storyteller! Short chapters kept the pace going and enticed me to read late into the night. Beautiful descriptions gave me a clear sense of place and authentic characters spoke with Scottish accents in my head (always a good sign). A deeply atmospheric novel.

I didn’t actually need the tissues that were sent with this book but I was very moved and had a great sense of peace. Just as Mairhi eases Donald and the others that she meets, so this book was a chance to have some calm in my otherwise chaotic life. And as I head back to the world of crime genre, I do so feeling as though I’ve had a little holiday by the sea, with the sound of waves crashing on the rocks and the smell of salt on the air. I am refreshed.

 

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Su Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written with psychotherapist, Malcom Stern. Her published fiction includes ‘Troll Steps’ (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar) and ‘Changes’, which came second in the 2010 CreativeWritingMatters flash fiction competition. Sealskin is Su’s debut novel, and it won the Exeter Novel Prize in 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magic realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.

 

To buy Sealskin click here.

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And now for something completely different…

I’m a little bit behind on my reading so I don’t have a review for you today but on Thursday it will be my turn on the Sealskin tour. This is a wonderful book by Su Bristow and I absolutely loved it, so look out for that later in the week. For today though, I thought I would be brave and finally share a bit more about my own writing. I haven’t done this since my first blog post so, eek, here it goes!

Last week, over half-term, I dragged my husband and children round Wiltshire for a couple of days so I could do some research. I had already done a lot of stuff online, even finding a place, via Google Earth, that was suitable for a crime scene. It’s a small wood near a railway line and there appeared to be a track from the main road that would take us there. We found it and my husband, very expertly, drove us down a pot-holed and very muddy track. Suddenly the views I’d seen online became very real and the storyline now seemed possible. I could imagine my police officers walking the same pathway as me, hearing the same birds (including a woodpecker) and the fast train that whizzed by on its way to Cornwall. We met a really lovely lady who was walking her dogs and she gave us some fascinating information about the area. The wood is called Wroughton’s Folly (and also, I discovered later, Maggot’s Wood – very apt for finding a body) and the track itself is reputed to be haunted. Seymour Wroughton was killed in 1789 when he drove his carriage and horses down the lane too recklessly one night. Legend has it that you can hear the noise of the horses and carriage at night. This is all great information for the book I’m writing now, currently titled ‘Falling’ which is the second book in my DI Bernie Noel series.

 

The first book is called ‘Missing’ and is about a child that goes missing from a playground in a local village. Although I have Bernie and her team based in Devizes, the villages in my books are fictional. It was great to drive around and spend some time in Devizes itself to get a feel for the place. Devizes is a quiet market town in Wiltshire that has the Kennet and Avon canal running through it. It’s also home to the Wiltshire Police Headquarters. One key shop in my stories is a baker’s and we managed to find a great bakery called Reeve the Baker. It exactly fits the bill for the books and I think their giant ring doughnut is going to have to be mentioned at some point! (Sadly I didn’t take a photo).

 

The last place that I really wanted to visit is from a scene in ‘Missing’. The White Horse is to the north of Devizes and thankfully, was accessible by road (our car was a bit of a mess by the end of the day). Again, using Google Earth, I had seen that there was a small woodland not far from the White Horse. By driving up there, we discovered that it’s called Leipzig Plantation and is owned by Wiltshire Council. Due to lack of suitable footwear and some grumbling children, we didn’t manage to go in but I found the pathway that leads into it. When I come to edit that scene, I’ll do it with more knowledgeable eyes now. Yes, I saw a lot of it through Google Earth, but that doesn’t give a sense of place – the sounds, the smells, the people who live there. It’s made me realise how important it is to go and visit the places you write about. In ‘Falling’, part of the story happens in Florence…

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The only slight downside to all this, is that I don’t have a contact in Wiltshire Police to find out if I have my police procedure set up correctly for Wiltshire. Without realising it, we actually parked in a car park next to Devizes Police Station. So one thing I have found out, is that they have  4×4 vehicle for the Rural Crime Team. That’s definitely going to be needed for that bumpy track! So a plea to Wiltshire Police – is there anyone who can answer a few questions for me please? And just to encourage you, my 7 year old has decided he wants to illustrate my books. Here’s one of his drawings.

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Dare To Remember by Susanna Beard

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Book Blurb:

Reeling from a brutal attack that leaves her flatmate dead and her badly injured, Lisa Fulbrook flees to the countryside to recuperate. With only vague memories of the event, she isolates herself from her friends and family, content to spend her days wandering the hills with her dog, Riley.

However, Lisa is soon plagued, not only by vivid flashbacks, but questions too: how did their assailant know them? Why were they attacked? And what really happened that night?

As she desperately tries to piece together the memories, Lisa realises that there’s another truth still hidden to her, a truth she can’t escape from. A truth that may have been right in front of her all along.

 

 

 

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My review

Dare To Remember is a slow burn but it needs to be. It would be unrealistic to expect Lisa to suddenly recall the trauma she has pushed down so deeply into her sub-conscious. Susanna Beard skilfully takes us with Lisa on her journey, as the clouds over her memory begin to break, revealing the truth, as splinters of light, ever so slowly. During this time, Lisa gradually learns to live again, helped by her new dog, Riley. He originally belonged to Lisa’s neighbour, John but he’s too old to take care of him properly. Lisa and John strike up a friendship and it isn’t long before she’s running a few errands for him. The other friend that Lisa makes is Jessica. She’s also new to the area.  On the surface, Jessica seems to have it all – a nice house, a loving husband and she doesn’t have to work. In reality though, Jessica is lonely and abused by her husband. These two friendships help to bring down the wall that Lisa has built around herself but also opens up her memories.

Dare To Remember is an intriguing read as it explores the effects of trauma and looks at how restorative justice can help both victim and offender. The narrative is both uplifting and disquieting as Lisa pushes against her past attack, and dares not just to remember, but to hope as well.  An impressive debut for Susanna Beard.

 

About the author

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Susanna Beard was part of the 2015 Faber Academy Anthology. She studied Linguistics before embarking on a career in PR and marketing. She has helped a multitude of clients promote everything from tourist detinations to Californian wine to cuddly toys. This is her first novel.

You can follow Susanna on Twitter @SusannaBeard25 and you can buy the book here.