@1stMondayCrime is back from its hols! September – with @claremackint0sh @lucyatkins @VickyNewham @bethklewis @Rod_WR

The sun was shining, the trains were baking and the aircon wasn’t working in the First Monday room. It felt more like July than September! And we had a smokin’ hot panel to kick us into Autumn – Lucy Atkins, Clare Mackintosh, Vicky Newham and Beth Lewis. Rod Reynolds (the token male) asked the questions.

The authors told us about their books first.

FM Sep 18.2

Beth Lewis’ new book is Bitter Sun. It’s set in 1970s America in a small mid-Western town. A bunch of kids find a body and set out to solve the murder.

Turn A Blind Eye is Vicky Newham’s debut. It’s a police procedural set in East London. And it’s the best time of year to read it as it starts with the murder of a head teacher on the first day of term!

Clare Mackintosh (Queen of the Twist) has a new ‘woman in peril’ called Anna in Let Me Lie. Anna is a new mum, coming to terms with her parents’ suicides. An anonymous note suggests that things aren’t quite what they seem and Anna sets out to discover the truth.

There are two main women in Lucy Atkins’ latest book, The Night Visitor. Olivia is a very successful TV historian who appears to have it all – a great career and family. But she also has a secret. And Vivian knows what it is. Will she bring Olivia down?


These all sound fab but what makes an effective Crime book? What ingredients are needed?

Lucy – Character. A plot may be easily forgotten but characters are often remembered.

Clare – Relating the story to your innermost fears. She thinks this is why Domestic Noir is so popular.

Vicky – A compelling story but this applies to all fiction. She likes to look at different kinds of crime and is interested in the psychology of violence.

Beth – Murder can get a bit dull so a variety of interesting and destructive crimes are good. Character and a compelling voice is also important as is a different setting that takes you away from what you know.

FM Sep 18.3

A compelling voice is definitely important. How do the authors decide viewpoints?

Beth – She’s used 1st person narrator all the way through in both her books. She likes ‘outside’ viewpoints, especially children as they see trauma through innocence.

Vicky –  There are multiple viewpoints in Turn A Blind Eye. Her protagonist is DI Maya Rahman and is written in 1st person. Another officer, DS Dan Maguire is written in 3rd person. There’s a teacher who’s also in 3rd person. And the killer gets a look in as well.

Clare – There are two main points of view – Anna, the ‘woman in peril’ who’s written in 1st person, present tense. Clare does this so the readers are inside the head of Anna and feel the threat and fear more acutely. Her investigator, Murray Mackenzie, is 3rd person, past tense. This creates a more objective viewpoint. And then there’s a third viewpoint who talks directly to the reader, purely to mess with your head! [And this is done extremely well in Let Me Lie].

Lucy – We see the events in The Night Visitor through two different female viewpoints. But who can we trust? Who’s reliable? Lucy doesn’t really plan as such so she delves deep and her characters emerge.


Focusing more on specific characters…

Lucy – Vivian, in her 60s, is socially awkward and is probably Autistic but undiagnosed. Lucy has some knowledge and experience in this area and particularly wanted to look at women on the spectrum.

Beth – Momma is a tyrannical character but there’s still empathy for her. There’s a feeling from her children of not wanting to disappoint Momma.

Clare – Murray Mackenzie is an amalgamation of retired police officers that Clare used to know. It’s not uncommon for them to then work in a civilian role afterwards but they have a wealth of experience. But there’s more to Murray then just the investigation. His wife has mental health issues but Clare uses this to create depth to her characters. She doesn’t like to use mental health for a plot device.

Vicky – DI Maya Rahman is originally from Bangladesh but she moved with her family as a child. Vicky likes to write diverse characters and she used to live and teach in Tower Hamlets. Her experience from that helped to motivate the ideas for Turn A Blind Eye. She did lots of research and checked with people she knew to make sure that Maya was correct and believable.


All four books seem to touch on parental relationships. Was this deliberate?

Lucy – No. Her debut novel was much more about motherhood. Although Olivia is a mother and her children show her vulnerability, Lucy wanted to focus more on Olivia’s career.

Beth – It just came out in the writing so it wasn’t deliberate. Beth has an interesting family set-up but she wasn’t consciously thinking about it.

Clare – Not really a starting point as the twist is the main point. We sometimes only really understand our parents when we become parents ourselves (not meaning to be controversial as obviously not everyone is a parent) but it’s at that point we think of her parents as people. Anna becomes an investigator to find out her parents’ secrets. We often don’t find out about our parents until after their deaths and we discover things as we go through belongings. And there’s a feeling of stepping up to the next generation after the death of a parent.

Vicky – Maya has a complicated relationship with her mother. After the family arrived from Bangladesh, Maya, her sister and her father thrived but her brother and mother didn’t. Her mother didn’t learn English and her brother committed suicide. Her father has also disappeared. It’s a very interesting back story!


Final question from Rod – one thing you’d wish you’d known earlier and one writing tip.

Clare – She wishes she’d started writing earlier, that you don’t have to wait. Her tip – never start the day on a blank page. Finish in the middle of a page, paragraph or sentence. Write a few notes about what will happen next. That way you can go straight back into it.

Lucy – Writing is a skill that you need to learn but it will improve as you write more.

Vicky – Anyone can be a writer. You don’t have to do a course. Just write. But write stuff that really means something to you.

Beth – She wishes she’d known how long publishing takes! Savour all the pieces of the publishing journey. Trust your instincts.


So that was the end of First Monday in September. Well, almost. The lovely authors all provided prizes for a draw. And rather embarrassingly, I won! I’m very pleased though and I even christened the Turn A Blind Eye mug yesterday. Thank you to the authors for your kind gifts and to Big Green Bookshop for providing the bag!

FM Sep 18

First Monday will be back on the 1st October. Keep an eye out for the panel announcement. I have to make some apologies now though. I won’t be able to bake cookies that day for the authors (sorry!) and I might not even make it to First Monday due to a prior engagement. But I definitely plan to be there for November.

To find out more about the authors and buy their books:

Clare Mackintosh  – click here.

Lucy Atkins – click here.

Vicky Newham – click here.

Beth Lewis – click here.

Rod Reynolds – click here.





Blog tour for The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech @LouiseWriter @OrendaBooks @annecater

The Lion Tamer Blog Tour Poster Final

I’m thrilled to take part in the tour for Louise Beech’s latest book, The Lion Tamer Who Lost. Thanks to Orenda Books and Anne Cater for asking me. My blog buddy today is the lovely Karen Cole over at Hair Past A Freckle. Feel free to check out her post. I have an extract for you to whet your appetite but first the blurb.


The Blurb

Be careful what you wish for…

Long ago, Andrew made a childhood wish, and kept it in a silver box. When it finally comes true, he wishes he hadn’t…

Long ago, Ben made a promise and he had a dream: to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally makes it, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…

Ben and Andrew keep meeting in unexpected places, and the intense relationship that develops seem to be guided by fate. Or is it?

What if the very thing that draws them together is tainted by past secrets that threaten everything?

A dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart…

The Lion Tamer Cover

The Extract
I’m Going To Lie Here

Ben slept, knowing the lions would wake.
Andrew Fitzgerald, The Lion Tamer Who Lost
For the next five days Ben concentrates mostly on Lucy. He is grateful for the challenge Stig has set him; glad to have something to occupy so much of his time.
Each morning – after his solitary sunrise, the usual banter with Simon, and a muesli breakfast – Ben and Esther head to The Nursery. Calling hello to Lois, a volunteer who seems to spend time with the newborns around the clock, they collect their bottles of milk and then part ways, each with their own ward to tend.
As soon as Ben enters the dimly lit room, Lucy is up on her feet, snarling savagely. He stoops low on the straw-covered cement floor, about six feet away, and talks to her in an even tone, ignoring her teeth baring and swinging paw.
‘Look, milk,’ he says the first time. ‘You know you want some of this lovely stuff. You must be bloody ravenous, girl.’
Most cubs her age would have already begun the process of being weaned off their milk, but Stig insists Lucy should have three bottles a day for now. She should also be winded like a human baby so she doesn’t get tummy ache, but Ben can’t get close enough to do that.
The first bottle ends up being hurled against the wall by her left paw. Thankfully, it’s plastic so it bounces, and Ben retrieves it and tries again. Lions have a special organ on the roof of their mouths that picks up odours, so he unscrews the teat to let her smell the creamy contents more strongly, and holds the open bottle as near to her as he dares.
‘Come on, you stubborn little madam. I reckon you want this more than you don’t want me.’
She sniffs it. Growls softly. He screws the teat back on and holds it out, a little closer still, shaking it so that some drops spill on the floor to tease her. He has seen how most of the newborns are fed here. Volunteers cradle them closely, stroke their fur, whisper words of encouragement – giving them that feeling of being with a mother. The real mothers of these cubs are either dead or have abandoned them, so without the care at the project the babies would perish. Ben doesn’t think Lucy will let him stroke her while she drinks, but for now he doesn’t mind, if she will only take it.
In the end, he ignores her.
After a while, she approaches the bottle. Making no eye contact with Ben, she latches onto the teat. The noisy slurping as she drains the milk in minutes shows just how hungry she really is. Ben doesn’t speak, not wanting to disturb her. He doesn’t reach out to touch her, even though he longs to.
The hair on her back looks the coarsest, with dark little tufts dotted here and there like the bushes on the surrounding landscape. It appears softer at the sides, and particularly behind her ears, where it is most glossy and golden. Perhaps one day Ben will get to feel it under his fingers.
For now, he is just pleased Lucy has drained her first bottle.
‘Good girl,’ he coos. She snarls and returns to the far corner of the room.
His heart sinks.
After this, however, she takes her bottle at least. Each time Ben enters the room with one, she sits and allows him to feed her, the only sound her slurpy guzzles. Once done, she retreats. Ignores him. For hours in between these feeds, Ben sits about six feet away from her, talking gently, and crawling a little closer when she seems to calm. For this he receives just a clawy little scratch on his cheek as payment.
‘Well, cheers for that, Lucy.’
Ben wipes the blood from his face and looks at the crimson streak on his palm. Flashbacks engulf him. The circus. Blood streaming from a fingertip. A bathroom. A new baby. Blood staining every surface. A hospital ward. A streak of red near a radiator.
The clanking chain dispels the memories. Lucy is getting comfortable for a snooze. Ben can try as hard as he likes to bury them – he can devote his energy to making the most of his time here – but he is powerless when some random sound or sight or smell evokes them. Maybe if he looked back on the happier moments before he came here then the past would not haunt him so much.
But he knows what those good days will lead to.


Like the sound of that? Then click here to buy the e-copy or pre order the paperback which is due to be published on the 20th September.


The Author

thumbnail_Louise Beech


Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her next book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Maria in the Moon was compared to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and widely reviewed. All three books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.



Blog tour – Overkill by @vandasymon @OrendaBooks @annecater #Overkill

Overkill Blog Tour Poster

My turn on the Overkill blog tour today. This fabulous book has made it’s way over from New Zealand. Thanks to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part. My blog buddy today is Mart over at beardybookblogger.wordpress.com so feel free to check out his post.  Before I give you my review, here’s the blurb.


The Blurb

When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what it seems.
Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands.
To find the murderer … and clear her name.

Overkill Cover

The Review

Well, I always think a sign of a good book is how difficult it is to put down. I read most of this book while at the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival,  in the middle of the night. Right from the opening paragraph, I was gripped –

The day it was ordained that Gabriella Knowes would die there were no harbingers, omens or owls’ calls. No tolling of bells. With the unquestioning courtesy of the well brought up, she invited Death in.

The tension continues through the Prologue and doesn’t let up until the end of the novel. Sam Shepherd is the lone police officer for Mataura, a small town in New Zealand. Like other small towns, it’s affected by financial difficulties, loss of employment and secrets that crisscross their way across town like telephone wires. Sam Shepherd needs to tap into some of those wires to find out the truth.

Of course, the investigation doesn’t run smoothly (there’d be no drama if it did) and Sam is bumped off the case and suspended when it’s revealed that the victim was the wife of Sam’s former lover. So she has to put herself in danger as she hunts down the vicious killer.

I’m amazed that this is a debut novel. It’s incredibly well written, creating atmosphere and tension in equal measure. Sam Shepherd is a fabulous character, always determined to do the opposite of what she’s told, whether it’s her parents, or her boss, or her friend Maggie. I loved the slice of New Zealand life that Vanda Symon serves us, right down to the Toffee Pops biscuits (I want some of these!).

When I get gripped by a book, it’s sometimes hard to pin down what that special ingredient is, what it is that keeps me reading. In this case, I think it’s the chilling prologue. It had such an impact on me that I had to know who was responsible for Gaby’s murder. The best news about this book is that it’s the start of a series. There are more Sam Shepherd novels to come and I, for one, can’t wait.

You can buy Overkill here.


The Author

vanda_jacket_br (1)

Vanda Symon (born 1969) is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has hit number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.

First Monday Crime is back for September!@1stMondayCrime @claremackint0sh @bethklewis @lucyatkins @VickyNewham @Rod_WR

It’s been a long summer holiday for First Monday Crime as the last session was in June. Since then we’ve had a heatwave and Autumn appears to be coming early with blackberries ripening and leaves falling down. September will soon be here and we need to prepare for First Monday Crime! And it’s a superb panel of fabulous female Crime authors with Clare Mackintosh, Beth Lewis, Lucy Atkins and Vicky Newham. Rod Reynolds is the token male for the night as chair.

Normally I would have an interview with one of the authors for you but as it’s the holidays it’s a bit tricky to get that sorted out. However, earlier this year, I read Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh. I thought I’d reviewed it already but it turns out that I haven’t.

The Blurb

The police say it was suicide.

Anna says it was murder.

They’re both wrong.

One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.

Now with a baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…

Let Me Lie

My Review

I think it’s fair to say that Clare Mackintosh is Queen of the Twist. She’s held this title ever since her debut novel I Let You Go was published. Let Me Lie continues in this great tradition. We’re plunged into Anna’s grief from the very beginning. To quote Oscar Wilde – ‘To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness’. But this is not carelessness on Anna’ part but a terrible tragedy with both her parents’ committing suicide. How is she supposed to recover from this, especially with a new baby of her own and when she lives in her parents’ house, their memories scattered everywhere? On the anniversary of her mother’s death, a few cards arrive, offering condolence a year on. One of them though is a gaudy anniversary card with a typed message inside – Suicide? Think again. From that moment on, Anna sets out to seek the truth about her parents.

Plot wise, I’m not going to tell you anything else because I don’t want to give any spoilers. There are of course the trademark twists that completely fooled me but it was the character of Anna who intrigued me the most. Not only is she grieving but when she does suspect foul play, everyone arounds her assumes she’s losing the plot – a combination of postnatal depression and grief. Somehow she has to battle against others’ assumptions about her to find the truth. Only one person takes her seriously – recently retired police officer, Murray Mackenzie. He’s not really supposed to investigate but the lure of just one more case proves too much to ignore. As Clare Mackintosh is a former officer, her police characters have that air of authenticity. It’s never just about the procedure as their personal lives reflect their work. For Murray, his wife suffers from mental health issues and keeping her on an even keel is a daily task.

Like her other two books, Let Me Lie gripped me from the beginning and it was always with great reluctance I would put it down to feed my children or do the school run. To sum this story up, I’m going to repeat the quote that Clare Mackintosh uses at the beginning of her novel – Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead (Benjamin Franklin). Brilliant.

The Author

Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh is the author of the debut novel I Let You Go, which has sold more than a million copies worldwide. It was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club and won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award in 2016. Clare’s second novel, I See You, was a number one Sunday Times bestseller and was also selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. Both books were voted readers’ favourite, and together they have been translated into over thirty-five languages. Let Me Lie is Clare’s third novel.

Clare is patron of the Silver Star Society, a charity based at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, which supports parents experiencing high-risk or difficult pregnancies. She lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.


If you want to join us on Monday 3rd September then please click here to reserve your free seat!



Summer Reads Part 1 #TheGirlWhoGotRevenge @Marnie_Riches #DarkPines @willrdean #Him @ClareEmpson2

As I’m writing this it’s tipping down with rain. I think the heatwave is definitely over. But I’ve had the chance to read some fantastic books over the last few weeks of sunshine and need to write reviews before I forget to do so. First up, my favourite kick-ass heroine.

The Girl Who Got Revenge by Marnie Riches

The Blurb

Revenge is a dish best served deadly…

A twelve-year-old girl is found dead at Amsterdam’s port. An old man dies mysteriously in a doctor’s waiting room. Two seemingly unconnected cases, but Inspector Van den Bergen doesn’t think so…

Criminologist George Mackenzie is called in to help crack the case before it’s too late. But the truth is far more deadly than anyone can imagine… Can George get justice for the dead before she ends up six-feet under too?

The Girl Who Got Revenge

My Review

love The Girl Who series by Marnie Riches. This is the fifth novel and it’s important to point out that time moves on with each book. It’s now ten years since George was an undergraduate student on an international placement in Amsterdam. But her love affair with the city hasn’t dwindled although her love affair with Inspector Paul Van den Bergen isn’t exactly rosy. Her work in Cambridge isn’t looking great either so when a trafficking case turns up in Amsterdam, George is more than happy to act as consultant. Paul is pleased too but he appears to be juggling his police work with his new role as a grandfather, trying to make up for his failure as a father. Naturally this puts a strain on his relationship with George.

But there’s plenty of police work to keep them occupied. Once again, Marnie Riches brings two disparate storylines and deftly ties them together. What on earth does a dead twelve-year-old Syrian girl have to do with a dead old Dutch man? On the surface, nothing. But as George and Paul pull away the layers, there is a connection.

The pace of this book is fast and the turbulence that George faces comes across well in the writing. George may be more mature but her temperament hasn’t mellowed. She’s just as feisty as ever. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but the ending is interesting. I don’t know if Marnie has plans for any more The Girl Who books but it’s left open-ended. And if this is the end, then I feel that George has been left in the right place. My lips are sealed.

You can buy The Girl Who Gets Revenge here and it’s now available in paperback along with the rest of the series.

The Author

Marnie Riches

Marnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in Manchester, within sight of the dreaming spires of Strangeways prison. Able to speak five different languages, she gained a Master’s degree in Modern and Medieval Dutch and German from Cambridge University. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist and professional fundraiser. In her spare time, she likes to run, mainly to offset the wine and fine food she consumes with great enthusiasm.

Having authored the first six books of Harper Collins Children’s Time-Hunters series, she now writes crime thrillers for adults.


Dark Pines by Will Dean

The Blurb


Eyes missing, two bodies lie deep in the forest near a small Swedish town.


Tuva Moodyson, a deaf reporter on a small-time local paper, is looking for the story that could make her career.


A web of secrets. And an unsolved murder from twenty years ago. Can Tuva overcome her fears and track down the killer before she is hunted down?

Dark Pines

My Review

When I started reading this book, it was particularly hot. So a book that transported me to a cold, damp Swedish forest was very welcome! But it wasn’t just the setting that chilled me. A huntsman shot dead is bad enough but the removal of his eyes is particularly creepy. And it’s this information that sends shockwaves around the small town of Gavrik. They’ve been here before – the Medusa killer is back after a twenty year break. For Tuva Moodyson though, a reporter and newcomer to Gavrik, this is the most amazing story of her career.

There is huge attention to detail in this novel and rather than putting me off, I found it drew me into the story more. Tuva is deaf and it was great to see the world through her eyes and hear, or not hear, through her ears. It’s clear that Will Dean has done his research on this and although we are always aware of Tuva’s disability, it’s not one that holds her back. Despite her fears, Tuva pushes on to find the truth. The tension at the end was almost unbearable and I had to actually put the book down for a bit as I was so tense reading it!

This is a stunning debut and rightly deserves its place on the shortlist for Not The Booker prize. It also featured in Zoe Ball’s Book Club. This is the start of a series and Tuva Moodyson will be back next year in Red Snow.

You can buy Dark Pines here.

The Author

Will Dean

Will Dean grew up in the Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of 18. He was a bookish, daydreaming kid who found comfort in stories and nature (and he still does). After studying at LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden. He built a wooden house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.


Him by Clare Empson

The Blurb

It all started with… H I M.

Catherine has become mute. She has witnessed something so disturbing that she simply can’t speak – not to her husband, her children or her friends. The doctors say the only way forward is to look into her past. Catherine needs to start with Him. Lucian.

Catherine met the love of her life at university and was drawn into his elite circle of privileged, hedonistic  friends. But one night it all falls apart and she leaves him, shattering his love forever.

Still, fifteen years later, Lucian haunts every one of Catherine’s quiet moments, and when they are unexpectedly reunited, their love reignites with explosive force.

Can you ever have a second chance at first love?


My Review

I was one of the lucky ones to pick up a proof of this book at Harrogate and I’m so glad I did. I’m still finding it hard to believe that it’s a debut – it’s so accomplished. We start with Now and Catherine is mute due to psychological trauma. The story then moves on to two more different time periods – Fifteen years earlier and Four months before – with both Catherine and Lucian telling the story. This may sound complicated but it really isn’t. The narration slips easily between them all. And what a story! I think this has to be one of the most obsessive and claustrophobic love stories I’ve ever read. I don’t know if Wuthering Heights was an inspiration for Clare Empson or not, but for me, there are definite similarities.

Catherine and Lucian meet at Bristol University. She’s from a middle class family, an only child loved and adored by her parents. Lucian’s family has money and he’s the heir to a country estate (through his uncle). But his father is dead and his mother hates him. In some respects they have nothing in common but they fall desperately in love until something happens and Catherine leaves him. Fifteen years later, their paths cross again.

This book reminded me of the drawings you make with a spirograph – circling in and out of the story, creating an image that doesn’t become completely clear until the end, the intricacies then displayed for all to see. We quickly fall into the characters’ lives. I thought I wouldn’t like Lucian and his crowd of friends but Clare Empson paints a vivid image, warts and all. There’s a sense of despair that comes across well throughout the book. Obviously there are secrets waiting to be unveiled but there was one twist that I found devastating and completely threw me.

Just as the love in this book is obsessive, I found this to be an obsessive read. I really resented have to put it down. It captured me entirely. I can’t wait to see what Clare Empson writes next.

This novel is published on August 23rd and you can pre order Him here.

The Author

Clare Empson

Clare Empson is a journalist with a background in national newspapers – small business editor, finance correspondent and fashion at the Mail on Sunday and The Daily Express, freelance for The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard and Tatler amongst others. She currently works as editor/founder of experiential lifestyle website countrycalling.co.uk


I’ve just started to read Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary so I’ll write some more reviews at the end of the holidays. In the meantime, I hope you have a fantastic summer!





Blog Tour – The Language of Secrets by @AusmaZehanat @noexitpress @annecater

language of secrets

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan, published by No Exit Press. This is the second book in her Khattak/Getty series set in Canada. Thanks to Katherine Sunderland from No Exit Press and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part. First up, the blurb and then an extract to whet your appetite.


The Blurb

An undercover agent has been murdered… but whose side was he on?

Toronto: A local terrorist cell is planning an attack on New Year’s Day. For months, Mohsin Dar has been undercover, feeding information back to Canada’s national security team. Now he’s dead.

Detective Esa Khattak, compromised by his friendship with the murdered agent, sends his partner Rachel Getty into the unsuspecting cell. As Rachel delves deeper into the unfamiliar world of Islam and the group’s circle of trust, she discovers Mohsin’s murder may not have been politically motivated after all. And now she’s the only one who can stop the most devastating attack the country has ever faced.

Language of secrets new cover


The Extract

Chapter 5
On his way out of the INSET offices, Khattak paused to have a word with Gavin Chan, a former colleague. Chan had been a junior member of the team two years ago, especially gifted in telecommunications. If anyone would know about the intercepts, it would be Gavin Chan.

Chan walked him to the elevator, a compact individual with a head of spiky hair and a ferocious sense of attention to duty.

‘You can’t tell me anything, I know. But if you’re part of the operation, you’ll have heard about my sister. I need to know if she’s in immediate danger. Is there any way I could have a look at transcripts of the intercepts?’

Chan stared at the wall, dropping his voice.

‘It won’t help you. There’s thousands of them; you won’t have enough time.’ He stretched his arms behind his back with an impressive display of flexibility. ‘I think I need a coffee. You wouldn’t believe the things that cross my desk.’ He wandered away to the stairs, tipping his head at a side door as he passed. ‘Be careful,’ he mouthed.

Khattak understood at once. Two agents walked off the elevator, nodding as they recognized him. He waited for the passage to clear, then pressed the button to send the elevator back to the ground floor. He crossed to the door Chan had indicated and slipped inside.

Chan preferred to work in a closed cubicle with the pleasant scent of a vanilla candle.
His computer was encrypted, connected to a series of monitors, all of which were dark. To one side of his desk was a copier, a printer, and a security-coded shredder. The desk was a study in organized chaos, dozens of file folders stacked in an order that made sense only to Chan. Placed on top of these was a timecoded memorandum.

The memo from Martine Killiam was addressed to Ciprian Coale, disclosing the name of the agents who were responsible for delivery of the fertilizer to a man named Rahman Aziz.

Khattak frowned. He took it as a personal affront when members of a terrorist cell ascribed the names of God to themselves. Rahman meant the ‘Most Compassionate,’ Aziz the ‘Most Honorable’.

Neither was a fitting choice for a would-be bomb-maker.

He scanned the rest of the memo. The delivery date of the materials was unspecified, a fact that set him on edge. He knew the INSET team was highly competent. It didn’t stop him from worrying that Hassan Ashkouri had discovered a way of moving ahead with his plans.

He heard voices in the corridor outside. The ping of the elevator, a whoosh of doors. Footsteps came closer, then the voices moved away.

He sorted quickly through the folders, scanning dates, times, locations for anything connected to Ruksh. Gavin had been right. It was too much raw data, and he had no means of prioritizing the information he sought. But one folder at the bottom of the
pile caught his attention. It was a dossier on Ashkouri.

Amid the papers and photographs was a biography appended to Ashkouri’s immigration file. A senior construction engineer, Ashkouri had been accepted as a skilled worker into Canada, where he’d rapidly found employment before branching off to form his own consultancy. At his thriving engineering firm, he’d hired three of the congregants at the mosque. Rahman Aziz’s name was also on the list as one of Ashkouri’s employees.

There was no information about Ashkouri’s abandoned course of studies as an Islamic scholar, where he had planned to study, or whether he’d been denied entry or exit visas that would have allowed him to follow his chosen course.

The Ashkouri family was from Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad. They had moved to Baghdad to flee the fighting between American and Iraqi forces. In 2013, they had returned to Baqouba to face additional tragedy with the bombing of the al-Sariya mosque.

Khattak felt the shock of memory. The attack on Sunni worshippers had followed the bombing of Shia neighborhoods and sites of worship, in a cycle of sectarian violence that had spread throughout the country.

His fingers held up a document. Ashkouri’s parents and brothers had been killed in the al-Sariya attack. He had never been married, he had no children. Immediately after the attack, his immigration to Canada had been approved.

But there was nothing that connected Ashkouri to Ruksh. Frustrated, he tried Gavin’s desk drawer, convinced that his ex-colleague had walked him to the elevator for a reason.

On the top of a pile was a blue folder similar to the one Martine Killiam had given Khattak. He flicked it open.

It was the same collection of photographs that were in the file in his possession.

Members of the training camp were cross-referenced with congregants at the mosque.

He was about to close the folder when he noticed a discrepancy.

He paged through the numbered photographs again.

Buried at the back were two additional photographs.

One was of himself. The other was a photograph of his sister.

Paper-clipped to the back of the folder was a typed list of names associated with the numbered photos. And beside the names a provisional status: Cell 1, Cell 2.

The space beside Khattak’s name was blank.

But under his name was his sister’s.

Rukshanda Khattak: Cell 1.

He closed the door to Gavin Chan’s cubicle, heading for the stairs.

Laine Stoicheva was at the elevator as he turned.

She looked from Esa to Gavin’s door, her eyebrows drawn together. The elevator doors opened and Gavin stepped out, holding a cup of coffee.

There was no time for Esa to warn him.

None of the three moved.

Then Laine stepped into the elevator, turning her face away.

The doors closed on anything Khattak might have said.


Wow! Imagine being a police officer and finding out that your sister may be linked to a terrorist cell! If you want to read more you can buy the book here.


The Author


Ausma Zehnant Khan holds a PhD in International Human Rights Law with a specialisation in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. She has practised immigration law and taught human rights law at Northwestern University and York University. Formerly, she served as Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl magazine. The first magazine to address a target audience of young Muslim women, Muslim Girl re-shaped the conversation about Muslim women in North America. She is a long-time community activist and writer. Born in Britain, Ausma lived in Canada for many years before recently becoming an American citizen. She lives in Colorado with her husband. The Language of Secrets is the second Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty mystery following The Unquiet Dead. it will be followed by Among the Ruins.


Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival 2018

Last weekend was the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. This was my first time so I was a bit nervous. However, everyone I spoke to was very friendly. To be honest, I spent more time chatting than in panels! The ones I did go to though were excellent – Wherever I Hang My Hat is Home with Gregg Hurwitz, Parker Bilal, Tim Weaver, Rod Reynolds and chaired by Laura Wilson; John Grisham interviewed by Lee Child; New Blood with Dervla McTiernan, CJ Tudor, Stuart Turton, Will Dean and chaired by Val McDermid; and finally, Dame Professor Sue Black in conversation with Val McDermid. All were excellent but I think my favourite was the one with Sue Black. She spoke with such eloquence about death – sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious – but always with absolute sincerity. She has a new book out called All That Remains so it’s likely that Sue will be doing other events. If you get the opportunity to go and see her, do so.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


But it wasn’t just panels that were going on. There were other events too including book launches, a gig by the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers (let Luca Vesta sing Britney!) and an Author Dinner. This was a meal on the Saturday evening. An author hosted each table (we had the lovely Teresa Driscoll) and there was a murder mystery to solve. The story had been written by Lee Child and involved the death of an actor – Troy Granite, a particularly large man. He’d been cast to play Tony Small, the pint-size protagonist from a popular book series. But who did it? Was it the book super fan who hated seeing his beloved hero portrayed by the wrong actor? Or the movie producer who now had second thoughts about the casting? Or the actor’s agent who may have been embezzling his client’s money? Or the author who was worried about her loyal fanbase? Well, I couldn’t possibly tell you who was responsible but we did get it right and even had the right motives. But for some unknown reason we didn’t win and we weren’t even mentioned! Don’t know what happened there. It was a lot of fun though and gave the opportunity to speak to new people.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Another great part was to meet for the first time some fellow bloggers I connect with on Twitter – Emma Welton, Susan Heads, Kate Maloney, Jo Robertson, Steph Rothwell, Mary Picken and Janet Emson. It was so nice to put faces to names! Of course, I also got to hang out with my regular blogger friends – Vicki Goldman (my travelling companion), Jen Lucas and her sister Mandie, Jacob Collins, Rachel Emms and Katherine Sunderland. There were plenty of authors and publishers as well to chat to (and maybe tease in the case of Rod Reynolds). And a special shout-out to Amer Anwar who was a great help with our suitcases and bags on the journey up to Harrogate. I was slightly concerned about how I was going to cope on the way back with all the extra books! But I needn’t have worried. A lovely man appeared at King’s Cross and carried my bags all the way home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The one thing my youngest child said to me each day when I rang home was – have you taken a photo of Lee Child yet? I have to admit that I was too shy to ask him! But I did get a photo of him with Daniel Pembrey. Daniel was about to interview him for the The Sunday Telegraph so keep an eye out for his article over the next few weeks.

Theakston 16


So, will I book for next year? I think so. It’s a very big festival and I did need some time out. Thankfully, my hotel was only a few minutes’ walk away so I was able to escape for a bit. Next time though, I’ll make sure I have more than just a hot chocolate in Betty’s!

Theakston 6
The best Hot Chocolate I’ve ever tasted!