The Constant Soldier by William Ryan

This is my second post this week for First Monday Crime. I’m reviewing The Constant Soldier and I also have a little Q&A with the author, William Ryan.wp_20160921_002

A long time ago, in the dim recesses of my past, I did A Level History. Half of my course was looking at European dictators from 1919-39. The country I found most interesting was Germany. How could a country vote in a man with repugnant views? How could the political ideals and ambition of one man lead to the worst war in history and the deaths of millions of people?

Paul Brandt has been terribly injured, fighting the Russians. He’s sent home to his little village in Upper Silesia, that had previously been in Poland, but now annexed by Germany. Paul’s injuries are so bad he’s facially unrecognizable and he’s lost an arm. When his father collects him from the station to take him home, Paul notices a rest hut on the journey. His father explains that it’s a place for the SS officers who are stationed by the nearby camp, to come and relax in the peaceful setting. But it’s not just the hut that catches Paul’s eye, it’s the female prisoners who work there – one in particular, one from his past in Vienna. Paul knows he has to make amends before it’s too late because soon, the peaceful valley will be shaken by Russian tanks.

Inspired by real photos of an actual SS rest hut, William Ryan manages to keep the tension between the most horrific events of the war and the almost carefree attitude of some of the relaxing SS officers. But not all are relaxed. Some are all too aware of their contribution to the camp down the road. Neumann, who’s in charge of the hut, is haunted by a Jewish man he killed. Whilst Ryan doesn’t specifically mention the camp in detail, he gives us enough gold nuggets of information to leave us in no doubt.

Ryan’s writing is sublime and even as I read on the hottest day in September for a century, I had such a clear image of a bitterly cold day in January 1945 when the villagers left and the Russians tanks rumbled in. Most war stories focus on action and battles; there’s little beauty in them. And yet, that’s exactly how I would describe The Constant Soldier – utterly beautiful, incredibly moving and cinematic in description. If Hollywood studios aren’t sitting up and taking notice, they should be – I’m available to help with casting, starting with Ralph Fiennes for Neumann.



After reading The Constant Soldier, I had the chance to ask William Ryan a few questions about the book and his other writing.


I would probably describe your books as historical thrillers. Why have you gone for historical rather than contemporary?

I think most historical novels are about contemporary issues in one way or another. So when I’m writing about the state surveillance of the individual in Soviet Russia, I may well be thinking about today’s state surveillance of the individual in pursuit of the war on terror. And one reason I choose historical settings over more modern ones is that things change so quickly – which means what feels contemporary today seems almost out of date immediately. You have a bit more control over the setting, and our perception of it, when you write about the past. Although even then we tend to put a contemporary gloss on it. If you compare the original Poldark television series to the more recent version, I think you can see how the storytelling is completely influenced by the time the production is made in. That’s me musing about the question rather than answering it but basically I’m curious about the past and how it worked and my novels give me a chance to explore that curiosity.


I’m assuming that a lot of research is required! How and where do you start?

Well, I tend to write about a particular time and place because I’ve been interested in it for some time. I don’t think I’m alone in my fascination with Nazi Germany, for example – how an apparently liberal society in the 1920s changed, within a very, very short time, into a dictatorship that then plunged the world into war that cost millions of lives. Sometimes history takes on a sudden rush of momentum towards something truly terrible and I’m interested in how ordinary individuals coped with that which is what, at the end of the day, both the Korolev novels and The Constant Soldier are about. I’ve probably been researching Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for much of my reading life, in one way or another. That having been said when you research a novel you aren’t too interested in big history, which is really just a backdrop. It’s usually more the everyday experiences of ordinary people that you want to find out about. And for that, you’re best off looking for more personal sources – diaries, letters, memoirs and, in particular, photographs provide the little details that really bring an historical period to life. I do a lot of research – but I try and keep it off the page. The best thing about research is it gives you confidence as a writer – you know how a T34 was driven and that avoids loose and unconvincing description. My view anyway.


With The Constant Soldier, you look at individual Germans and their responses to the war and the deeds they have done. Do you think it’s too easy for us to lump all Germans together from that time and assume they were all evil? I think we often forget the Germans who opposed Hitler and were either killed or imprisoned. Others fled.

There are some evil characters in the novel but I tend not to be too interested in black and white characters – those that are either purely evil or purely good. Most of us are somewhere in between and try to get along through a series of compromises depending on the situation. Obviously when you live in an evil regime, you find yourself having to compromise more and more. Did all of the 6000 or so Germans who worked in Auschwitz set out to be involved in mass murder? Some of them did, certainly – but others probably made a series of seemingly innocuous decisions. The man who owned the album of photographs on which The Constant Soldier is based, Karl-Friedrich Hoecker, was a bank clerk before he joined the SS and a bank clerk again – for the same bank – after the war ended. In between he was the adjutant to the Commandant of Auschwitz. When he was uncovered in 1962 and put on trial his colleagues were amazed – he was, after all, a very ordinary man. And that, for me, is the terrifying thing – that in the right circumstances ordinary men can become mass murderers. And we’ve seen it happen again and again – in the former Yugoslavia, in Cambodia, in Rwanda and in Syria. If The Constant Soldier is about anything, it’s about that.


Are you working on a new manuscript and if so, are you able to tell us anything about it?

I’m back to writing another Korolev novel which I’m really enjoying. It’s set on a Soviet icebreaker trapped over an Arctic winter in pack ice. I don’t want to give too much away but there may be daring plane landings, a shaman’s curse and a little bit of cannibalism. All good stuff.


What can we expect from First Monday Crime on 3rd October? (I was a little disappointed that the mud wrestling ferrets didn’t turn up last time!)

It’s a fantastic line up this month – Stuart Neville, SJ Watson and Antonia Hodgson are all at the top of their game so I’m feeling up against it. It’s the first time I’ve appeared at First Monday and it’s probably the best line up (I don’t include myself in that) I remember. Plus its in a smart new venue that actually has a bar in the same room. There are even rumours Stuart Neville might bring his guitar. So, while there may not be any mud wrestling ferrets, there probably will be a very good time had by all.


A big thank you to William Ryan for taking the time to answer my questions and for writing such a wonderful book!


You can buy tickets for First Monday Crime here and as it’s a new venue – Library on St. Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden – I strongly advise printing out your ticket and bringing it along.

You can buy The Constant Soldier here



So Say The Fallen by Stuart Neville

In a week’s time on Monday October 3rd, First Monday Crime will be opening the doors of its new venue – Library  in St. Martin’s Lane, in Covent Garden. October’s panel will be SJ Watson, William Ryan, Antonia Hodgson and Stuart Neville.  If you would like to buy tickets (£5 per person) then click here

I was kindly given So Say The Fallen to review (thank you very much).


Set in Northern Ireland, DCI Serena Flanagan is investigating the suspected suicide of a severely disabled man. Everything points to the man taking his own life – even the pathologist agrees. But something doesn’t quite add up for Serena, not least the close relationship between the grieving widow and the reverend of their local church. As DCI Flanagan scratches the surface, she finds even more tragedy. Flanagan feels compelled to take the case further but does so at the risk of her career and her family.

I’ve done my usual thing of reading books out of order. So Say The Fallen is the second book in the DCI Flanagan series with Those We Left Behind being the first. What I find so incredible is that this is only the second book. It felt as though it should be the third or even the fourth – that’s how well established DCI Serena Flanagan is as a character. Neville has put some back story in and it’s enough for the reader to grasp the amount of stress that Serena and her husband Alistair have been under. Their marriage is at breaking point and Flanagan has to make decisions about who comes first – her family or her job – sometimes with catastrophic consequences. And Neville writes a female narrator remarkably well, especially since Serena Flanagan has had breast cancer. The most moving part of the story for me was when Serena prays to a God she doesn’t believe in, in order to save her marriage.

But this isn’t just about Serena Flanagan’s life. At the heart of the novel is the death of Harry Garrick and, reminiscent of a Columbo episode, we the readers know more than DCI Flanagan at the start. Or at least we think we do. Stuart Neville, though, keeps enough back to keep us guessing until the end.

So Say The Fallen is a book that seems at odds with itself – a moving and profound exploration of faith versus a tightly written thriller. Yet Neville entwines them beautifully. I do hope there’s a book 3. DCI Serena Flanagan is a woman going places.

To buy So Say The Fallen then click here

And if you want to find out more about Stuart Neville then check out his website


Chiswick Book Festival

On Saturday, I spent the day at Chiswick Book Festival and managed to get to three panels. First up was ‘Queen of Crime – Christie or Highsmith?’ with Sophie Hannah, Jill Dawson and Colette McBeth. Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot novel, Closed Casket, has just been published. She didn’t feel daunted by the prospect of writing Poirot as it’s not her job to rival Christie but be more of a stellar sidekick to the genius. Jill Dawson’s new book The Crime Writer is part fact and fiction about Patricia Highsmith. In the book, Highsmith is the protagonist so Dawson had to try and get into her head. She did this by re-reading her books in order and obsessively. She also met people who knew Highsmith and visited the cottage in Suffolk where she lived for a time and where Dawson has set the book.


As Hannah pointed out, it’s hard to choose between the two as they had very different styles and approaches. Christie was more of a mystery/puzzle writer; Highsmith was psychological suspense. Christie wanted the reader to connect with the detective; Highsmith, the criminal. Christie was Golden Age; Highsmith hated the Golden Age and didn’t even like being called a crime writer – she wanted to be taken more seriously. Apart from her brief disappearance (the only thing Highsmith thought was interesting about her) Agatha Christie was generally a happy woman; Highsmith was deeply unhappy and had murderous thoughts from the age of 8. Two different writers with two completely different styles – is it possible to crown just one Queen of Crime? No poll was taken on the day so it all comes down to your own personal choice. For me, I prefer Christie but it’s now Highsmith’s books that I want to read.

If you want to buy Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah then click here and for Jill Dawson’s The Crime Writer click here.

Next up was Debut Novelists. Joanna Cannon (The Trouble with Goats and Sheep), Janet Ellis (The Butcher’s Hook) and Barney Norris (Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain) chatted to Cathy Rentzenbrink (The Last Act of Love).


Joanna Cannon is a doctor and wrote a lot of her book sitting in NHS car parks. Set in the long hot summer of 1976 (yes, I do remember it!), Mrs Creasy has disappeared from her home. Grace and Tilly, both aged 10, set out to find her. I wanted to buy this book but it had sold out. So when I do get my hands on a copy, I’ll probably be the only person to have a signed post-it note on the front page.


wp_20160919_002-1Janet Ellis is, of course, a well known TV presenter and actress, most famous for Blue Peter. But all along she wanted to write but was afraid to do so, thinking it wouldn’t be good enough. It took a long time to be brave enough to take that step and she started by going on a writing course. It was there that her confidence grew and The Butcher’s Hook was the result. Set in Georgian times, Anne Jaccob has fallen in love. The problem is, it’s not the man her parents have chosen. I know you should never judge a book by it’s cover but this one is exquisite.

Barney Norris is a playwright. His book, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, is set in his hometown of Salisbury where, indeed, five rivers do meet. Five protagonists tell the story – a florist, a grammar school boy, a farmer, a military wife and a worker for English Heritage. Their lives weave in and out of each other but they only all meet together once when a car accident occurs.

Click here for Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble with Goats and sheep, here for The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis and here for Barney Norris’ Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain.


The last panel I went to was my absolute favourite due to the sheer amount of hilarity it caused. Ladybird books were a big part of my childhood so when the new series ‘How it Works’ came out last year, I just had to buy some. Looking and smelling like the genuine article (because they are the genuine article, having been printed in the Ladybird factory), these books have been incredibly successful. Written by Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley, comedy writers for television, they told us how they had originally come up with the idea. Comedy TV productions basically take the summer off so each year they have a spare few months to write a book. In the past, these have been more sort of toilet books but one year, the book they were due to write was cancelled. So they thought about the kind of book that they would like to write and who they wanted to publish them. As huge fans of the original Ladybird books, they wondered what would have happened if Ladybird hadn’t stopped. What if Ladybird were producing books for adults, explaining the adult world? They approached Penguin who own Ladybird and who had published them before. It took all of five hours for Penguin to agree. Some of the proposed ideas were The Hipster, The One Night Stand (with a toothbrush on the front cover) and The People Downstairs.

One of the hardest problems is finding the right pictures for the books but a worker from Ladybird, several years ago, scanned in all the images from the original books and gave them labels. At the time she didn’t know why she did it but Morris and Hazeley are extremely glad that she did. When the books came out, they were very well received and one woman wrote to them saying that she was the bride in one of the pictures used. It also turned out that her father used to run Ladybird Books.

Thankfully, in time for Christmas, there are more books due out, including The Grandparent, The Cat, The Dog, The Sickie and my favourite – The Zombie Apocalypse. I’m hoping that The Grandparent will make reference to watching boring TV programmes, talking all the way through your favourite TV programme and falling asleep during a conversation. So far, I’m the one who’s been buying the Ladybird books as presents and I’m quite annoyed that my husband and children have not bought me The Wife or The Mum. I’m fully expecting them to remedy this for Christmas!

If you want to buy the Ladybird books then here’s a link for The Wife (subtle hint to my husband who probably won’t even read this!)


My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry


I hadn’t quite finished reading My Husband’s Wife when I saw Jane Corry at First Monday Crime last week. Jake Kerridge described it as ‘domestic noir’ which Jane agreed with. Personally, I’d add one more word to that and call it a ‘domestic noir saga’. The story spans two time periods with 15 years in between. In the first part, Lily and Ed are newlyweds. You’d think they’d be happy after their whirlwind romance and wedding but they’re not. Lily, an up and coming lawyer, is still unsure why her handsome artist husband chose her – not unattractive but a little on the large side. When she meets Ed’s ex, the beautiful Davina, Lily’s even more convinced that Ed doesn’t really love her. But maybe it’s her past that’s preventing her from completely loving Ed. To ease the tension between them, Lily agrees to babysit her Italian neighbour’s daughter, Carla, on Sunday afternoons. Carla becomes a linchpin between them, holding their rocky marriage together. But the appeal case for a convicted murderer that Lily is working on is all consuming, Ed’s drinking is rapidly heading out of control and there’s a shock discovery about Carla’s mother – can they all survive?

In part two, fifteen years on, Lily and Ed are still together with a son called Tom, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The strain of looking after him is taking its toll on them so they send him to Lily’s parents in Devon. Although Tom has brought them together, there are still cracks in their relationship. Carla returns, no longer a child but a beautiful young woman. Will she be a linchpin again or a hammer to smash them apart?

At First Monday Crime, Jane Corry cited two influences on this book – the break up of her first marriage and her time as a writer in residence in a male prison. She wanted to explore divorce and the relationships that come out of that – in particular new spouses. Hence the title My Husband’s Wife. I found the first part of the book a little slower in pace but the devil here is in the detail. There are many things that we need to know for part two to work. And then part two started to skip by and I found it hard to put it down.

There are two main narrators – Lily and Carla. Unusually, Jane Corry has used both first person and third person viewpoints (Lily is first and Carla third). I would love to know if this was a deliberate ploy for the reader to empathize more with Lily but either way, it definitely works. Initially I loved Carla as a child but rapidly changed my mind in part two.

Corry writes eloquently about the pain of divorce and new partners:

– you can never really wipe away a marriage. A piece of a paper is not a rubber or a bottle of Tippex. It can legally negate the ‘contract’ between two parties, as a lawyer may put it. But it cannot expunge the memories, the traditions, the patterns that spring up between a couple, no matter how good or bad the state of their relationship.

You may be wondering where the crime is in all of this. There is one and we’re told about it right at the beginning of the book but have to wait until the end to find out who’s responsible.

One last thing I want to mention is Jane Corry’s writing about Asperger’s Syndrome. This is a subject close to my heart and I managed to ask her about this at First Monday Crime. She explained that although she has some knowledge about it, she turned to the National Autistic Society to make sure that what she wrote was authentic. I can tell you now,  Jane, it’s pretty spot on. And not just what a person with AS goes through but also the turmoil for the parents. Thank you.


If you want to follow Jane Corry on Twitter then

@JaneCorryAuthor  and you can buy her book here

First Monday Crime September



It almost had that back to school feeling on Monday evening. Catching up with others that we haven’t seen over the summer, swapping holiday stories. Thankfully, Jake Kerridge was on hand to make sure we weren’t unruly and listened dutifully to the panel. And what a line-up! Sophie Hannah, Tim Weaver, Rod Reynolds and Jane Corry.

Sophie Hannah is back with her second Hercule Poirot story – Closed Casket. She told us how it had never occurred to her that she would be given permission by the Christie family to write new stories for Poirot. In Closed Casket, Poirot is invited to a party where the hostess, Lady Athelinda Playford, is planning to change her will and make the announcement to everyone. But Poirot has never met Lady Playford before. So why has he been invited?

Tim Weaver’s 7th Raker novel is Broken Heart. David Raker is a Missing Persons Investigator and this time he’s asked to look into the case of a woman who drives to a secluded beauty spot. CCTV sees her drive in but not leave. How can she just vanish? I have to admit that I haven’t read any of this series but I’m completely intrigued, so will be remedying that soon! (Which is why I don’t have a photo of your book – sorry Tim!)

Black Night Falling is Rod Reynolds second book featuring journalist Charlie Yates. Set in Hot Springs USA in 1946, Charlie begins to investigate some missing girls. But Hot Springs is a corrupt town and as Rod told us, it really was the Mob’s vacation spot. (See my review for Black Night Falling here)

Jane Corry completed the panel as a debut novelist but is a very established journalist. Her novel is My Husband’s Wife and tell the story of Lily and Ed and their relationship with their neighbour, a young girl called Carla. I’ve just finished reading this so will do a review very soon!


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Jake asked how important is it to know the end of your story before you begin to write it?

Tim Weaver isn’t really a  great planner so he doesn’t always know how it’s going to end until he starts writing. He’ll often pause at stages and try and second guess the reader and then go in a different direction.

Rod Reynolds has endings that he throws out. He starts with a synopsis but will often change it as he writes the story. He finds that a better ending will become more apparent and one trick he has is to write himself into a corner and then try and work out how to get out of it!

Jane Corry didn’t know the ending for her book either and prefers it that way. She likes to be the captain of the ship without having any direction to go in. Often the characters will do something interesting and that will point the way.

Sophie Hannah is more of a planner but that doesn’t preclude flashes of inspiration and she gives herself permission to change the plan.

A question from the room was how do you give your secondary characters integrity?

Tim said that it’s important to let the characters develop and come alive on the page and see how they interact with the main protagonist. He mentioned that he once heard some else say that all characters are the protagonist in their own stories.

Sophie Hannah doesn’t think it necessary to know everything about a character i.e. an in-depth back story. It’s all about how they relate to the main character. Characterization is plot driven.

For Rod, Charlie Yates is an outsider to Hot Springs so he had to think carefully about the ‘insiders’ from the town and what they would contribute to the story – what do they know?


Jane likes multi view points (she has two in My Husband’s Wife) as they help to move the plot along and they comment on each other. But she does think it’s important for sub characters to have a role and likes to think of them as a whole person.


First Monday Crime will be back on the 3rd October with a terrific line-up – SJ Watson, Stuart Neville, Antonia Hodgson and William Ryan. You can buy tickets  here


But if you can’t wait until then for your crime fix then Sophie Hannah will be at Chiswick Book Festival  as well as Paula Hawkins and William Ryan. And on Thursday 22nd Sept, Crime in the Court is back – tickets £5.


If you want to follow any of the authors featured in First Monday Crime this month or buy their books then

@sophiehannahCB1      buy Closed Casket at Amazon here

@TimWeaverBooks        buy Broken Heart at Amazon here

@Rod_WR                         buy Black Night Falling at Amazon here

@JaneCorryAuthor          buy My Husband’s Wife at Amazon here

Two Dazzling Debuts – Cut to the Bone by Alex Caan and Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington

I had two books I was saving for my holiday – Cut to the Bone by Alex Caan and Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington. There had been a lot of buzz on Twitter about these debuts novels and the buzz wasn’t wrong.


Cut to the Bone

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Vlogger Ruby Day has gone missing. DS Zain Harris isn’t overly concerned – just a young woman late home. But when a video is posted online of Ruby captured and pleading for her life, Harris and his boss, DCI Kate Riley, suddenly realise that they have a very serious case on their hands.

My kids love to watch YouTube, especially my youngest. This morning he was watching a young guy who normally commentates on Minecraft videos. He was doing a Q&A this time with his fans and one of them asked about his favourite car. I thought the question was just about cars in general but no, it was about his own cars – 4 in total including a Mercedes. How does a young man in his early 20s afford 4 cars?! Cut To The Bone blows apart the world of fame and fortune for online vloggers and I have to say that I was left reeling by what was revealed. I’m not sure I will ever look at YouTube in quite the same way again.

This isn’t your normal police procedural. Investigating officers, DCI Kate Riley and DS Zain Harris have their own past secrets that refuse to stay in the past and threaten to cloud their judgment, particularly Zain. Short, snappy chapters kept me reading late into the night, as the plot (at times worthy of Bond) twisted and turned. In short, Cut To The Bone is an impressive debut thriller and I hope there is more to come with DCI Riley and DS Harris.


Saving Sophie


There is always something a bit nerve wracking when the police knock on your door. Karen, seeing her 17 year old daughter, Sophie, completely drunk and held up by 2 officers, is furious and is even more infuriated when Sophie claims she can’t remember anything. Because Karen knows that the outside world is dangerous. She was attacked two years before and now is unable to leave her own home. Even when Karen’s best friend’s daughter is murdered, she can’t leave the house to go and comfort her friend. But it appears that her own daughter is now in danger – will Karen leave the house to save Sophie?

This is an excellent psychological thriller. Told from three viewpoints – Karen, Sophie and DI Lindsay Wade – the story is revealed in layers. Just like you might find yourself screaming at the TV when a person obviously puts themself in danger, I kept shouting in my head, “Go to the police!” The portrayal of Karen as an agoraphobic was very realistic. In fact, it had the opposite effect on me and made me feel claustrophobic as she confined herself to the house. I would have liked to have heard more from DI Wade but I know she will feature in Sam Carrington’s second novel so hopefully we’ll get to know her better – it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface with her.

The tension builds well and I think I’m still in shock with a most unexpected ending! But you’ll have to read it to find out!

I was so impressed by these debuts and they both get a massive five stars from me. I can also see that my list of top ten books of the year is beginning to shape up nicely!

If you want to find out more about Alex and Sam (and maybe buy their books) then

Twitter – @alexcaanwriter


Twitter – @sam_carrington1