Murder on the Beach at West Barnes Library with @markhillwriter and @william1shaw @MertonLibraries #WestBarnesLibrary #murderonthebeach

Murder on the Beach poster

It might have been wet enough outside to build an ark but inside West Barnes Library, we had an evening full of sun, sea and suspicion with Murder on the Beach. Authors Mark Hill and William Shaw had braved the elements to join us. We started the evening with finding out more about the books.

Deadland is the second in the DS Alex Cupidi series by William Shaw. Two teenagers steal a phone. Nothing new there really. Except they steal the wrong phone and the owner is willing to do anything to get it back, including murder.

The Bad Place is the first DI Sasha Dawson novel by Mark Hill. His previous character, DI Ray Drake, was quite dark. Sasha evokes the seaside setting by having a sunnier disposition and family life. She ends up looking into a cold case. Twenty-six years before, six children had been kidnapped but only five made it out alive.

I asked about the pros and cons for having a seaside setting. William’s books are mainly based in Dungeness although DS Cupidi has to travel all over Kent including Margate. William particularly loves Dungeness as a location. You can’t view it on Google maps as it’s privately owned by EDF Energy and they charge too much for the photos to be taken. So the only way to see it is to go there. He particularly loves the original shack buildings but isn’t so keen on the newer contributions to the area. They might look architecturally beautiful but they’re edging out the original inhabitants. Having a nuclear power station as a backdrop is also useful at times!

Mark originally wanted to set his book in North London but his editor said no. So he decided to go back to his Essex roots and chose Southend, although like DS Cupidi, DI Dawson is covering most of the county too. And going to research Southend (with the world’s longest pier) wasn’t too much of a hardship and got him out of the house.

Seaside towns have quite mixed fortunes. Some, like Bournemouth and Brighton are quite prosperous with universities and good transport links. Others like Jaywick (Essex) and Blackpool are incredibly deprived. I asked the authors if they considered this in their writing.

William does consider it. The rise of packaged holidays abroad really knocked the tourism trade in the UK. Add to that, big cities shipped their poorest to live at the seaside because it was cheaper to house them there. With little work available, the poor stayed poor. So William is really aware of the impoverished areas of Kent, especially the seaside towns. There may be parts that still look good but get away from the tourist centre and the situation for locals is a lot bleaker. So he does his best to weave some of this reality into his stories.

Mark is very aware of the poverty too but it’s not the main focus in his novels. For him it’s all about the plot and characters. He’s less concerned about adding themes. Having said that, his next book will include a TV reality star. Can’t think where he’s got that idea from!

Having both previously written male police officers, I wondered how the switch to female had worked for them.

Both were aware about not writing stereotypes. William was given the advice by female authors to think about how women might speak to each other if no men were around. So he has quite a few conversations between DS Cupidi and her female colleague, DC Jill Ferriter, that take place in the ladies toilets. Alex Cupidi has a teenage daughter and William wanted to explore the dynamic of a single mum coping with work and motherhood.

Mark is doing a similar thing as Sasha has a husband, two children and both parents living nearby. He wanted to think about how she would react dealing with a murder investigation when a family member would suddenly ring up and ask inane questions. Juggling work and home commitments is a constant battle for Sasha.

As both authors use multiple voices in their novels, I wondered how they created these.

Mark has a whiteboard and he plans out the various scenes for his narrators. This gives him two advantages. Firstly he knows exactly where the story is going and secondly, it allows him to write out of order. If he’s in the mood for a chase scene, he writes that. Or a romantic scene. He gets bored easily so there’s a lot of pace in his books. If he’s bored writing it, then he’s aware the reader might feel the same.

William starts with chapter one and works his way through, adding the different voices where it seems necessary. With Deadland, he has divided it into four parts. He did this because he wanted there to be quite a gap between hearing from the two teenage boys. For me, this worked really well as I was aware we hadn’t heard from the boys for a whole section and it added to the tension. Using different narrators is a relatively new thing for William. In his next book, we’re going to be hearing from a badger. Yes, really.

I always send out my questions in advance to the authors so they can prepare for the event. However, I didn’t mention to them about the little quiz I’d prepared for them. As they’re now writing about female officers, I tested their knowledge on TV female sleuths with a theme tune competition. I won’t give the final scores but it’s fair to say that Mark Hill aced this quiz and puts his prowess down to watching a lot of reruns on Dave.

There was so much more that William and Mark shared but it’s hard to remember it all when you can’t take notes. A big thank you to William Shaw and Mark Hill for a hugely entertaining evening. If you would like to buy the books then please click on the authors names for more details.

Mark Hill

William Shaw

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And thank you to the Friends of West Barnes Library who hosted the event. We’ll be back on Monday 18th November with The Lady Thrillers – Emma Curtis and Amanda Robson.

 

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Review – Violet by SJI Holliday @SJIHolliday @OrendaBooks #Violet

Harrogate is a fabulous festival. Even more so when you get handed a proof of Violet by SJI Holliday. So a big thank you to Karen Sullivan! I don’t always get the chance to read every single book an author has written but I have with Susi. Whether it’s her long-suffering police officer, Davie Gray in her Banktoun trilogy, or her ghost-busting, The Lingering, or her Christmas novel, The Deaths of December – I’ve read them all. So it was with baited breath that I jumped into Violet.

The Blurb

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

A tense and twisted psychological thriller about obsession, manipulation and toxic friendships, Violet also reminds us that there’s a reason why mother told us not to talk to strangers…

Violet Proof

My Review

Recently there was a TV programme on BBC2 where people took part in a race from London to Singapore using various forms of transport except airplanes. They were in pairs and although it was interesting to see the choices they made in terms of transport and routes (they had limited money), the most fascinating part was how well they got on. Or didn’t. The final four teams were two sets of friends, a father and son, and a husband and wife. There was some bickering and sulking but they all managed to resolve any differences. Of course, though, they knew each other well. But what if you travelled with a stranger?

They say reading a book is like going on a journey and SJI Holliday literally does this in her new novel, Violet. Carrie and Violet are both at loose ends. Carrie’s friend had an accident so couldn’t make the trip of a lifetime and Violet has recently split with her boyfriend. It makes perfect sense for Violet to take the spare ticket for the Trans-Siberian Express. Doesn’t it?

The narrative is from Violet’s point of view but we hear from Carrie through her emails to Laura, the friend who couldn’t make the trip. I’ve never travelled like this but having watched the TV programme, there’s an intensity in travelling, especially when you’re stuck on a train for days on end, and that comes across so well. There’s tension throughout as we’re unsure who to trust.

Susi always has fantastic descriptions and her prologue sets us up for a creepy, gripping story. Far from being the trip of a lifetime, the journey becomes the holiday from hell. There are plenty of twists and turns as we learn more about Carrie and Violet. Or we think we do. I love the fact that I was never quite sure where things were going or what was going to happen. It’s real ‘edge of the seat’ stuff. In true SJI Holliday form, we don’t know the whole story until the very end. And even then she leaves us wanting more.

My favourite part of the book though is a little tie-in with The Lingering. I’m not going to say any more than that and leave it for you to spot.

Having never travelled like this before, I’m not sure if I want to now. But if I do, I’m definitely going with someone I know really well!

Violet is already available as an e-book and will be published in paperback a month today on Thursday 14th November. For more details click here.

 

The Author

susi-holliday-38-9512s-darker-square

S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize.

She has written three crime novels set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which are a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller. They are: Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly – all featuring the much loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray.

Her serial killer thriller The Deaths of December (written as Susi Holliday), featuring Detective Sergeant Eddie Carmine and Detective Constable Becky Greene was a festive hit in 2017.

Her spooky mystery The Lingering was released in September 2018.

Her latest book Violet – a psychological thriller set on the Trans-Siberian Express is out in September 2019.

You can find out more at her website: http://www.sjiholliday.com and on Facebook and Twitter @SJIHolliday. Sign-up for updates and giveaways here: http://eepurl.com/beHpez

Blog Tour – A House of Ghosts by @WilliamRyan_ @ZaffreBooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n #AHouseofGhosts

 

William Ryan Blogtour 19 SeptI’m thrilled to be taking part in the tour for A House of Ghosts to celebrate the paperback being published. Thank you to Tracy Fenton and Zaffre Books for inviting me to take part. I have A House of Ghosts in hardback and it’s so beautiful. I’m glad to see that the paperback looks just as good. I reviewed the book last year and you can read my review here.

So what do I have for the blog tour then? Well, William Ryan has kindly answered a few questions for me all about A House of Ghosts. But first, the blurb.

 

The Blurb

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.

At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.

For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one . . .

A House of Ghosts

The Q&A

Where did the idea for the story come from?

I’ve always wanted to write something about the First World War and one aspect that particularly appealed to me was the rise of Spiritualism, the belief that the dead did not entirely pass and could be contacted, the popularity of which grew exponentially due to the huge casualties on the Western Front. I thought a crime novel built around it might work quite well, with maybe a few other elements thrown in.

 

It’s quite a mixture of sub-genres in a way – ghost story, spy thriller, a Golden Age whodunit and even romance. Were you aware of that when writing it?

Absolutely. I think if you go looking for elements of John Buchan, Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie, you’ll probably find them and a few other writers as well. I don’t understand readers, or writers, who think that books need to keep strictly to type – it’s fun to mix things up, both for the reader and the writer.

 

Your setting is wonderfully claustrophobic with Blackwater Abbey on an island that’s cut off from the mainland by a snow storm. Did you base the island on a particular one and have you ever been cut off?

I’ve been snowed in a couple of times which I suppose counts as being cut off – but there weren’t any ghosts just a lot of hot chocolate. Blackwater Island is a mixture of Burgh Island, which I used to live very close to and which Agatha Christie used as a basis for one or two of her novels, and Lundy Island, which is a bit more remote and off the North Devon coast. The house is an invention but based it on a selection of Tudor Houses. I took what I needed from each of them, although I think the ossuary came from an Italian monastery.

What can I say? I’m a writer, I make stuff up.

 

Your books are historically based. What kind of research did you have to do for A House of Ghosts? Would you consider writing something contemporary?

I knew the period of the First World War quite well already but I did do a fair amount of research into Spirtualism and some less well-known events, like the Silvertown Explosion, and I now know more about gas masks than I probably should. I enjoy research though and, conveniently, it tends to be where I find a lot of plot ideas plus, in this case, it allowed me to watch quite a lot of Downton Abbey reruns. There is a certain certainty to the past, which is helpful for a writer and you can explore contemporary issues at the same time (surreptitiously). That having been said, I’m very open to writing a contemporary novel. I have one or two in mind.

 

Ghost stories seem to be making a comeback. Was that part of your plan from the beginning or did the ghosts weave their way in later?

Ghosts were in from the beginning and fortunately my editor, Sophie Orme, likes a fictional ghost so we were on the same ghostly page, so to speak. I’m not sure why ghosts are so popular at the moment but I think it may have something to do with technology taking over the world around us and people needing a dose of the unknown from time to time, just to keep them sane.

 

Your two main protagonists are Kate Cartwright and Donovan. They make a formidable double act. Do you have future plans for them?

Originally A House of Ghosts was intended to be a standalone novel, but I really enjoyed writing it so I left open the possibility of a sequel, just in case.  I can’t confirm anything just yet but I’d say the chances are 60/40 – it turns out readers enjoyed reading it as well. Even if he doesn’t come back with Kate in a sequel, Donovan is likely to show up in a supporting role in another novel I’m working on. It seemed a shame not to give him another run out.

 

A big thank you to William Ryan for answering my questions. If you like the sound of A House of Ghosts (the perfect read for chilly weather) then you can buy it by clicking here.

 

The Author

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William Ryan’s first novel in the Captain Korolev series, The Holy Thief, was shortlisted for a Crime Writer’s Association’s New Blood Dagger, a Barry Award, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award and The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. The second in the series, The Bloody Meadow, was shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year and the third, The Twelfth Department, was also shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year as well as the CWA’s Historical Fiction Dagger and was a Guardian Crime Novel of the Year..

The Constant Soldier, William’s fourth novel was described as “subtle, suspenseful and superb” by The Daily Mail and shortlisted for the HWA’s Gold Crown and the CWA’s Steel Dagger.

William’s latest novel (as W.C. Ryan), A House of Ghosts, was published in October 2018 and the paperback released in October 2019.

William lectures on creative writing at City University and helps run the First Monday Crime evenings. Visit william-ryan.com for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

First Monday Crime – October 2019 with Peter Robinson, @Marnie_Riches, @FrenchNicci, @inkstainclaire and @1stMondayCrime #ManyRiversToCross #Tightrope #TheLyingRoom #WhatYouDid

Summer is definitely over. The rain poured down last night so anyone who made it to First Monday Crime was worthy of a medal. Especially Nicci French – Nicci Gerrard and Sean French – as they cycled! Thankfully we were warm and dry inside City University. Our guests were Peter Robinson, Nicci French and Marnie Riches and Claire McGowan was our moderator.

First of all, what are the new books all about?

Marnie Riches has started a new series with Bev Saunders. She’s a divorcee living in Hale, Cheshire. She’s a disgraced marketing executive and her ex-husband has taken her to the cleaners. She’s also addicted to sex and origami. (Marnie was keen to point out that although she’s also a divorcee living in Hale, she’s not addicted to sex and origami). Living in her friend’s grungy basement, Bev becomes a private investigator and is persuaded by her friend (who’s after the rent money) to take on the case of Angela Fitzwilliam, an abused wife. The complication is that Angela’s husband is an MP and Shadow Cabinet Minister for Science. He’s also a very nasty man. Marnie wanted to write Tightrope in response to #MeToo and about men who won’t take no for an answer.

Many Rivers To Cross is a DCI Banks novel from Peter Robinson and is part two in a trilogy. A boy’s body is found in a wheelie bin in a (fictional) small town in Yorkshire. It’s connected to County Lines where vulnerable people are dragged into the drugs world. The overall story covering the three books is about Zelda who was abducted and sex trafficked.

Nicci French get their ideas for their books in different ways. They started with an ordinary wife and mother getting breakfast ready and shooing everyone off to school and work. She then changes her clothes into something smarter, gets on her bike and heads to Covent Garden to meet her lover at his flat. When she arrives, she finds her lover dead, clearly murdered. She’s about to call the police when she realises that her secret affair will become public. So instead of dialling 999, she begins to clean the flat and remove all traces of herself and in turn, compromises the crime scene. Neve makes a cascade of choices which lead to more and more lies. At the same time she has to maintain normal life by making the packed lunches, doing the laundry and feeding the guinea pig.

 

Claire asked if there any set themes that the authors like to return to?

Nicci Gerrard said that she loves reading police procedurals but she and Sean like to write about ordinary people who don’t even know they’ve been set in a thriller. There’s always a woman at the centre who makes a mistake or does something accidently. It’s normally something easily identifiable to the reader and then they ratchet it up. Sean French quoted Raymond Chandler who wanted to take crime away from the ordinary people and give to the bad ones. They (Sean and Nicci) want to do the reverse and take crime away from the bad and give it to the ordinary.

Marnie has looked at organised crime with her three different series. In her The Girl Who series she focused on trafficking whether it was drugs or people. Then she looked at gangs and crime families with her Manchester based series featuring Sheila O’Brien. And now Bev Saunders rubs up against organised crime as powerful men order prostitutes like you would pizza. Marnie loves to have kick-ass heroines and big nasty criminals. She also uses her locations like another character. George McKenzie was based in SE London and Amsterdam, Sheila O’Brien in Manchester and Bev Saunders in Hale.

Peter has written a few standalones but most of his books are about DCI Banks. Although set in Yorkshire, he deliberately created a fictional town and dale that would allow him to write urban and rural crime. As Peter said, no one can hear you scream in the Dales – it can be that deserted. You could walk for a day and not see anyone. He likes to play around with the geography and even though it’s fictional, he still gets messages from people telling him he’s got it wrong! He’s gone back to the trafficking theme after first writing about it twenty years ago.

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Claire felt that all three books were saying something about women and their place in society.

Nicci and Sean thought that Neve was sick of doing everything. She’s a good wife, a good mother, a good employee and a good friend. Everyone looks to her. She’s hemmed in by the choices she’s made and has an affair to get away from it all. She has friends but they all have secrets. Every family has problems. As Sean said, if you see a family that you think has everything together, you don’t know them well enough. Nicci felt that you could remove the thriller aspect of The Lying Room and be left with a portrait of a marriage.

There’s a lot of sex in Tightrope. So there’s quite a dirty chapter in her book and Marnie told her daughter to skip that bit when she read it. Marnie knows some people who have done some eye-watering things that *may* have made it into the story. She’s happy to write sex scenes as they can be character development. Bev is forthright about her sexual needs in comparison to her client, Angela Fitzwilliam, who’s being abused by her husband. Marnie thinks we shouldn’t shy away from sex.

Peter doesn’t think any crime writer has ever won the Bad Sex Scene Award so thinks maybe he should give it a go! However, DCI Banks isn’t getting much at the moment. That might change due to the chemistry between him and Annie. Peter’s unlikely to ever kill off Banks but if he wanted to finish the series then he might promote Banks to Chief Constable and marry him off to Annie. With writing Zelda, he didn’t worry about what he’s allowed to write. He started off with the idea that we’re all human beings. Zelda is trying to live in peace in the Yorkshire Dales but her past is catching up with her. Peter didn’t find it difficult to find her voice. He had her grow up in an orphanage that had English children’s books so that gave her some Englishness.

 

Claire then had what she called ‘obvious questions’ for the panel. For Nicci and Sean – how do they write books together?

They still find it weird that they can write and live together. Having said that, they don’t write in the same room. Sean has a shed in the garden and Nicci writes in the house as far away as possible! As former journalists, they had often thought about working together but it was only when they had their idea for their first book, The Memory Game, that they tried it. They did try to write the final chapter together but never again! They plan the books until they’re sure of their plot, their characters and the voice. When everything is in their heads, then they write. They email chapters back and forth and edit and cut. There’s no battle of voices and style and they prod each other to write.

Peter’s obvious question was to do with the TV series for DCI Banks. Did it change the way he wrote? No. Peter had nothing to do with the casting or the filming. So he stopped worrying about it and separated himself from it. Especially as they messed up the books. He did have a small cameo and it was fascinating to be on set. He doesn’t see Stephen Tompkinson as DCI Banks.

Marnie’s question – have you ever been told to tone down the sex? No, in fact her editor told her to turn it up and add more! They’re some of the most fun scenes to write. But Marnie is also trying to address questions of consent etc. She’s exploring class as Bev is working class, just like Marnie.

 

Final question from Claire – are there any Crime tropes they’re sick of?

Peter’s sick of police procedure. Not the characters but the actual investigations and all the things the officers have to do.

Marnie is sick of simpering passive women and alpha (albeit damaged) males. She wants a woman with punk spirit and see more heroines earning their status.

Nicci is sick of the difference that social media and technology has made to writing. Quite tempting to write something historical to avoid all that.

Sean is sick of the maverick detective who breaks all the rules and only has 24 hours to fix things.

 

I (Joy) got a chance to ask the panel a question. As both Marnie and Peter have taken part in Simon Toyne’s TV programme, Written In Blood, I wondered if they would ever want to write about true crime.

Peter enjoyed doing the programme but he wouldn’t want to write about a true crime. He felt it would be too invasive and he wouldn’t want to intrude on the family and their suffering.

Marnie had similar thoughts about the invasiveness but if she were to write one, she’d look at Fred and Rosemary West.

Nicci actually reported on the Fred and Rosemary West trial when she was a journalist. She was there every day and it marked her. There were lots of things that came out at the trial that were not reported in the papers as they were too awful. She was also present at the trials of Ian Huntley (Soham) and Harold Shipman. Sean felt it was one thing to write about things you imagined and quite another to write about actual crimes.

Claire is currently writing about a true crime and finding it a bit difficult.

 

On that merry note we finished (I know how to lower the tone) and went to the Dame Alice Owen pub (formerly The Blacksmith and Toffee Maker) for a well-earned drink. If you’d like to buy any of the books from the panellists then please click on their names. We’ll be back on Monday 4th November and will be announcing the panel very soon!

Marnie Riches

Peter Robinson

Nicci French

Claire McGowan

 

First Monday Q&A with Nicci French and review of #TheLyingRoom @FrenchNicci @1stMondayCrime @simonschusterPR

We’re thrilled to be welcoming Nicci French (aka Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) to First Monday Crime next week. The Lying Room is their first standalone novel since finishing the very successful Frieda Klein series. As well as a review, Nicci and Sean have very kindly agreed to answer some questions for us.

 

The Q&A

Please can you tell us a bit about your new book – The Lying Room.

This is a story set off by one decision. A married woman looks down at the body of her murdered lover. Should she call the police and upend her life? She doesn’t, and this sets of a catastrophic train of events.

 

After writing your Frieda Klein novels for a number of years, what’s it been like switching to a standalone?

We’d spent almost a decade living in Frieda’s world, with its sense of accumulating dread. Writing The Lying Room felt like stepping out into the sunshine – although bad things can happen in the sunshine. We had a new setting, new characters, and a different kind of story – it felt like starting again.

 

Now, Neve Connolly. When I first started reading it, I could really relate to her. The opening scene of breakfast on a school day is one that plays out across the country. By the end of the first chapter though we discover that Neve is not who we think she is. How did you create your latest protagonist?

Whenever we talk about a story, we talk about who this story needs to happen to. What The Lying Room needed was an ‘ordinary’ woman, middle-aged, with a husband and children, struggling with work and a home and a pet and friends. We wanted to make every bit of her normal, familiar life a source of suspense. We wanted to write a novel in which an ordinary woman (who isn’t very good at being a detective) has to fight for the lives of people she loves and for herself, and at the same time remember to feed the guinea pig and do the laundry. Also, we had spent years writing about Frieda Klein, who is an extraordinary woman with particular abilities. It was refreshing to spend time with a leading character who was more like us!

 

I’m sure you’ve been asked this question so many times but how does your writing partnership work? I can see how it might work with multiple viewpoints but in The Lying Room you just have Neve. How did you keep her voice consistent?

We plan our books together, we do the research together but we never actually write together. One of us will write a particular section, then email it to the other, who is free to edit, change, add, cut. They then continue, email it back to the other and so on. But we only begin writing a book when we’re clear we have the same story, the same character, in our heads. Also, what’s crucial about our collaboration is it’s not Nicci Gerrard trying to make her writing fit with Sean French and Sean French trying to write a bit like Nicci Gerrard. We both write as this other writer, ‘Nicci French’, and it’s as mysterious to us as it is to anyone else.

 

I know authors have lots of ideas for books but when there’s two of you those ideas obviously multiple. How do you decide what you write? And are you working on something new now?

Our stories emerge out of our endless conversations, things we’re anxious about, things that get under our skin. When we find something that won’t let us go, something that obsesses us both, something we’re willing to give a year of our lives to, then we know we’ve found our subject.

Our next novel is about a woman who has to solve a murder while in prison for that murder.

 

On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you to be coming to First Monday Crime?

Our excitement at coming to First Monday Crime cannot be captured in mere numbers. But so as not to duck the question, we will give it 11.

 

A big thank you to Nicci and Sean for answering my questions and to Jessica Barratt for arranging this and for my copy of The Lying Room. Without further ado, let’s find out more about the book.

The Lying Room

The Blurb

Neve Connolly looks down at a murdered man.
She doesn’t call the police.

‘You know, it’s funny,’ Detective Inspector Hitching said. ‘Whoever I see, they keep saying, talk to Neve Connolly, she’ll know. She’s the one people talk to, she’s the one people confide in.’
A trusted colleague and friend. A mother. A wife. Neve Connolly is all these things.
She has also made mistakes; some small, some unconsciously done, some large, some deliberate. She is only human, after all.
But now one mistake is spiralling out of control and Neve is bringing those around her into immense danger.
She can’t tell the truth. So how far is she prepared  to go to protect those she loves?
And who does she really know? And who can she trust?
A liar. A cheat. A threat. Neve Connolly is all these things.
Could she be a murderer?

 

My Review

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any Nicci French novels. Two of my most prized books are first editions of Killing Me Softly and Secret Smile. Somehow I’ve completely missed out the Frieda Klein series so I’m pleased to be making up for lost time with The Lying Room.

Neve Connolly appears to be a normal, ordinary woman. The book starts with a scene familiar to many – getting the family through breakfast and out the door. I know that one for sure! But then Neve gets a text from a man she knows intimately. A man who isn’t her husband. And from that point on, her life spirals out of control.

As I haven’t read any Nicci French books for a number of years now, I’d forgotten how much they delve into their main character’s life. By the end of the book I felt I knew Neve incredibly well. Even more than her own friends, since they didn’t know her level of deceit. At first she lies to cover herself but then it’s to protect her daughter, Mabel. She’s about to go off to university but she’s fragile after a few years of mental health issues. Although the problem is never fully revealed, we know enough to see that it’s put significant strain on Neve’s marriage to Fletcher. Suddenly we start to see that breakfast scene in a new way – like an optician testing new lenses, tweaking until it becomes clear.

Lots of the characters are not as they first seem. It’s hard to know who to trust and Neve has the same problem. They trust Neve though and soon people are unburdening themselves and telling her their secrets, not knowing she has the biggest secret of all.

Neve appears like a swan. She appears to be poised and in control, but under the water she’s flapping away, desperately keeping up the pretence. Even when her house guests outstay their welcome, she manages to maintain the façade. Anything to distract from the terrible mess in the shadows.

Although Neve is the main protagonist, the real star of the book is Whiskey the guinea pig. In between lying to the police, her friends and her family, Neve has to remember to feed Whiskey and clean him out. It’s a beautiful touch to the story, creating a little bit of sanity in Neve’s crazy world.

Hopefully none of us will find ourselves in the same predicament as Neve but I think there is something that can be taken away from this story. The sense of seeing yourself and others. Really seeing. Not just going through the motions of life and work and children. It takes a crisis for Neve to see it. But there’s a sense that all is not lost. A lesson for us all.

 

You can buy The Lying Room here or better still, come along to First Monday Crime and get yourself a signed copy! There’s still time to reserve your seat. Click here.

 

The Author

Nicci French

Nicci French is the pseudonym for the writing partnership of journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. The couple are married and live in Suffolk. There are twenty-one bestselling novels by Nicci French, including the Frieda Klein series, published in thirty-onr languages. The Lying Room is their first standalone novel in ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

Blog tour – Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson @JoGustawsson @OrendaBooks @annecater #BloodSong

Blood Song Blog Tour

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson. Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part and to Karen Sullivan for a copy of the book.

The Blurb

Spain, 1938: The country is wracked by civil war, and as Valencia falls to Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Republican Therese witnesses the murders of her family. Captured and sent to the notorious Las Ventas women’s prison, Therese gives birth to a daughter who is forcibly taken from her.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2016: A wealthy family is found savagely murdered in their luxurious home. Discovering that her parents have been slaughtered, Aliénor Lindbergh, a new recruit to the UK’s Scotland Yard, rushes back to Sweden and finds her hometown rocked by the massacre.

Profiler Emily Roy joins forces with Aliénor and soon finds herself on the trail of a monstrous and prolific killer. Little does she realise that this killer is about to change the life of her colleague, true-crime writer Alexis Castells. Joining forces once again, Roy and Castells’ investigation takes them from the Swedish fertility clinics of the present day back to the terror of Franco’s rule, and the horrifying events that took place in Spanish orphanages under its rule.

Terrifying, vivid and recounted at breakneck speed, Blood Song is not only a riveting thriller and an examination of corruption in the fertility industry, but a shocking reminder of the atrocities of Spain’s dictatorship, in the latest, stunning instalment in the award-winning Roy & Castells series.

Blood Song Final Jacket

My Review

I had the great pleasure of reading the first in the Emily Roy and Alexis Castells series, Block 46, but I’ve not yet had the chance to read Keeper, even though it’s on my Kindle. So I’ve jumped ahead to the third book. There were obviously a few things that happened in book 2 as Alexis is about to get married! However, if you’ve not read any of Johana’s books yet this can be read as a standalone.

The Lindberghs, Goran and Kerstin, are found murdered in their house, along with their daughter, Louise. It’s particularly horrific as their tongues have been cut out. Trying to find the motive for the murder is tricky and Emily Roy and Alexis Castells have their work cut out for them.

The most chilling bit of Block 46 for me was the historical narrative and it’s the same for Blood Song. Looking back at the terrors of the Spanish Civil War and the years of dictatorship that followed, Johana Gustawsson has drawn a vivid and disturbing picture of what happened to Republican women and children. I studied a bit of the Spanish Civil War for A-level History but didn’t know about the camps and orphanages. It’s an incredibly moving account not least because of the personal connection that Johana has with that period in Spain’s history.

The personal connection continues with the IVF storyline. The Lindberghs owned a fertility clinic. Could the motive for their murders lay there? I don’t think I’ve ever read such a powerful story about infertility. I know couples who’ve had to go the IVF route and I don’t think I’d fully appreciated just how much they had to go through. This comes across so well in the novel and I certainly have a new appreciation of what people have to deal with.

I’m always intrigued as to how Johana weaves the past with the present and I really didn’t know where she was going with this story. But it all comes together in an incredibly emotive way. And I can honestly say I didn’t guess who the murderer was.

Overall, this book moved me in so many ways. Johana’s writing is always sublime and translated wonderfully by David Warriner. Her real strength is the way she handles such difficult topics. She doesn’t shy away from the horror but she manages to write these storylines in such a delicate way, especially the Spanish Civil War narrative. By revealing this tragedy, I think maybe Johana is also seeking to remove the shame that many of those women and girls must have felt. In a way, it’s a #MeToo moment for the Spanish women affected. A fabulous book that entertains and educates in equal measure.

To buy Blood Song click here.

 

The Author

Johana Gustawsson

Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson
has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her
critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la
découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published
in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish
and UK co-production. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and
their three sons.

First Monday Crime Book Review – Tightrope by @Marnie_Riches @1stMondayCrime @TrapezeBooks #Tightrope

This is your two week warning – First Monday Crime returns on Monday 7th October! And, as always, we have a fantastic panel for you. Claire McGowan will be chatting to Nicci French (aka Nicci Gerrard and Sean French), Peter Robinson and Marnie Riches. I’ve just finished reading Marnie’s latest book, Tightrope. But before I give you my thoughts, here’s the blurb.

The Blurb

What happens when a private investigator ends up being the one uncovered?

Having lost everything after a failed marriage, Beverley Saunders now lodges in the basement flat of a house owned by her best friend Sophie and her husband, Tim. With Bev’s former glittering marketing career in the gutter, she begins to do investigative work for other wronged women, gathering dirt on philanderers, bosses and exes.

But when Beverley takes on the case of Sophie’s friend Angela, who is seeking to uncover grounds for divorce from her controlling husband, Jerry, the shadow Science Minister, she soon discovers that she isn’t the only one doing the investigating…

Beverley has a secret history she doesn’t want coming out – but will she manage to stay hidden long enough to give Angela the freedom she deserves?

Tightrope

My Review

I’ve long been a fan of Marnie Riches. Her protagonist, George McKenzie, from The Girl Who series, is one of my favourite characters ever. So it’s always a bit daunting to start reading (and I guessing writing too) a new series. It took me a little while to get used to Bev Saunders but in some ways that’s not surprising. The Bev we meet at the beginning of the book is different to the one at the end. It reminded me of Pass the Parcel. There was a very shiny piece of paper at the beginning but as we went on, the paper changed and became tabloid newspaper. Instead of prizes, secrets about Bev were revealed. Thankfully though, the gift at the end is a heart of gold. No matter what we find out about Bev, you can’t help but root for her. Which is just as well as she has a hard task on her hands.

Angie is a battered wife but not the sort normally portrayed. Her husband is an MP, a minister in the Shadow Cabinet – a powerful man with powerful contacts. Angie is desperate to leave but how can Bev help her go against such a man?

Bev has help in the form of Doc, a young man from her Addiction group. He may have a degree from Oxford but he’s also first class in computing hacking. There’s nothing he can’t do. Together they make a formidable but slightly comedic team.

Tightrope is a fast-paced twisty thriller that also made me laugh out loud. There was always humour in Marnie’s previous books but it feels as though she’s been given permission to take that ‘lol’ moment further. Some scenes are almost farcical but Marnie manages to pull them off so that the severity of the crimes aren’t forgotten. In fact, victims are always at the forefront of Marnie’s writing, especially those who don’t have a voice. And when Bev speaks up for those victims, she doesn’t just shout for them, she uses a megaphone. In fact, Bev is willing to put them before her own happiness. Her methods may be dubious and her flaws extreme but Bev Saunders has the makings of a great PI. And Marnie Riches has the beginnings of another hit series on her hands.

 

You can buy Tightrope here or better still, come to First Monday Crime, buy the book and get it signed. If you haven’t reserved your free seat yet then click here immediately! We look forward to seeing you in Room A130, College Building, City University, 276 St John’s Street EC1V 4PW at 6.30pm. Then afterwards we’ll be heading to The Sekforde Arms, our new pub set in a road with a Dickensian (posh not workhouse) feel to it.

 

The Author

Marnie Riches

Marnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in north Manchester. Exchanging the spires of nearby Strangeways prison for those of Cambridge University, she gained a Masters in German & Dutch. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist and professional fundraiser.

Her best-selling, award-winning George McKenzie crime thrillers, tackling the subject of trans-national trafficking, were inspired by her own time spent in The Netherlands. Dubbed the Martina Cole of the North, she is also the author of Born Bad and The Cover-Up – the critically acclaimed hit series about Manchester’s notorious gangland.

Tightrope is the start of a brand new series, set mainly in the famous footballer-belt of Hale, Cheshire, and introducing flawed but fearless northern PI, Bev Saunders who risks everything to fight the corner of her vulnerable client. A second Bev Saunders novel will follow in early 2020. So far, Marnie has sold an impressive 250,000 books and counting…

When she isn’t writing gritty, twisty crime-thrillers, Marnie also regularly appears on BBC Radio Manchester, commenting about social media trends and discussing the world of crime-fiction.