Time of Death cover image

Time of Death cover image

What the blurb says: “The Missing: Two schoolgirls are abducted in the small, dying Warwickshire town of Polesford, driving a knife into the heart of the community where police officer Helen Weeks grew up, and from which she long escaped. But this is a place full of secrets, where dangerous truths lie buried.

The Accused: When it’s splashed all over the press that family man Stephen Bates has been arrested, Helen and her partner Tom Thorne head to the flooded town to support Bates’ wife – an old school friend of Helen’s – who is living under siege with two teenage children and convinced of her husband’s innocence.

The Dead: As residents and media bay for Bates’ blood, a decomposing body is found. The police believe that they have their murderer in custody, but one man believes otherwise. With a girl still missing, Thorne sets himself on a collision course with local police, townsfolk – and a merciless killer.”

So, declarations first, I have to confess that I’m a huge fan of Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series and so I couldn’t wait to read the latest book TIME OF DEATH (published today – 23rd April).

This story takes Tom out of his usual city surroundings on a visit to the countryside for a romantic break with his partner Helen Weeks. But it doesn’t stay a relaxing holiday for long. When Helen recognises the wife of the man accused of the abduction of two schoolgirls from a small Warwickshire community, their holiday is cut short as they head to Polesford for Helen to support her old school friend who is in the grips of a suffocating media presence, and whose community, and social media, is vilifying her and her family.

With Helen preoccupied with her friend and acting increasing distant, Tom does what fans of the series might anticipate – he starts to look at the facts of the case, at first piquing the interest of the local police, and then (as he spots the holes in their evidence and theories) becoming an irritant. Once he realises the investigation isn’t as thorough, and the case as well proven, as the locals are saying, he’d determined to find out the truth behind the abductions and get to the remaining missing girl before it’s too late.

Taking Thorne out of his London comfort zone is genius move. He hates the countryside, especially the thought of antiquing and walking, but through the course of his (unofficial) investigation he has to embrace everything the area has to throw at him – floods, pigs, a lot of characterful locals, and the kind of claustrophobic environment where everyone knows each other’s business.

Being the outsider, and not officially involved in the case, he’s able to follow his instincts unchecked, and starts to find he’s actually rather enjoying his holiday. He even manages to entice his friend, and talented Pathologist, Phil Hendricks, out from the city to help him. They still haven’t really spoken about what happened on Bardsey Island (in the previous book The Bones Beneath) and the personal cost to Phil (and Thorne) that resulted, but their friendship is a strong as ever and their banter is, as always, a joy to read.

TIME OF DEATH is filled with mystery and intrigue from the abduction case Tom is investigating, it also layers on a growing sense of unease that coming back to the place she grew up has unearthed some deeply buried secrets that Helen has kept well hidden. The consequences of both will have ramifications for both Helen and Tom.

Masterfully written, this is another fabulous instalment in what I think is the best police procedural series around today.

It’s a book that from the first chapter I just couldn’t put down. A real must read for crime fiction fans and one of my favourite books of 2015 so far.

Highly recommended.

 

[with thanks to Little, Brown for my copy of Time of Death]

 

 

Personal cover image

Personal cover image

What the blurb says: “Someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president but failed to kill him. The suspected sniper has serious skills and is a hard man to find. Reacher tracked him down once and put him in jail. Now he’s asked to hunt him again, and put him away permanently.
Tracking the shooter will take Reacher from France to England after a killer with a treacherous vendetta. He’ll need to uncover who did the hiring and what’s behind the assassination attempt before executing his orders.”

As a massive fan of Lee Child’s writing, I must confess that it was a huge thrill and a privilege to get to read an advance copy of PERSONAL.

In PERSONAL – the latest novel and nineteenth in the Jack Reacher series – Reacher spots an advert in the Personals from a military colleague asking him to get in touch. He owes this guy from way back and so Reacher being Reacher, he makes the call and finds himself pulled into a high profile case that threatens international security.

There’s been an attempt to assassinate the French president. The sniper fired from a range of fourteen hundred yards, more than three-quarters of a mile. There are very few people in the world that could have made the shot, and one of them has a bad history with Reacher. Question is, was he the one who pulled the trigger? And, if he was, can Reacher track him down before he tries again at the London G8 summit?

Partnering up with young agent Casey Nice, Reacher follows the trail, taking him from the US to Paris, on to London and back to the US. But with half-truths and bureaucracy at every turn, the inter-agency team remains a step behind their person of interest. With the time ticking away, Reacher takes matters into his own hands – in a way that only he can.

This is a fabulously fast paced, action packed story, with all the twists and turns you’d expect from a Reacher novel. Reacher himself is as witty and smart as ever, and a strong mentor for Casey on her first operational mission on overseas soil. And it’s great to see Reacher making a trip across to Europe. I particularly loved the London scenes, and picturing this great character in locations that I know.

Cinematic and slick, this heart-thumping, page-turning read is a must for all thriller fans.

Highly recommended.

 

PERSONAL is out in paperback on the 23rd April.

[with huge thanks to Transworld Books/Bantam for my copy of PERSONAL]

Quentin Bates

Quentin Bates

Today, crime writer Quentin Bates takes the reins here at CTG HQ to tell us about his recent experiences in translation – working on the fabulous novel Snowblind from Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson (published in English by Orenda Books) …

It has been something of a step into the unknown. All right, I’ve done plenty of translation before from my adopted second language, Icelandic, a language that 320,000 Icelanders and a couple of dozen non-Icelanders speak. It’s a long story, but I lived there for a long time, boy meets girl and all that stuff, and found myself staying a lot longer than originally intended.

But to get back on track, I’ve done bits and pieces of translation before, almost all of it fairly grim technical and news material, although there was a novel I translated years ago for the fun of it and eventually wound up publishing myself as an e-book. It’s here if you fancy a look, but I warn you, it’s not a crime story and there are no murders in there.

It was a surprise that there are so few Icelandic crime writers translated into English. For a long time there were only two, the two everyone knows about, Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Then they were joined by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson with a handful of books and Árni Thórarinsson with only one and it’s a shame as Árni’s books are excellent, refreshingly different with a journalist as a protagonist rather than a detective or a lawyer. It has long been a mystery to me why so many Swedish and Norwegian crime authors seem to make it seamlessly into English, while their Danish, Finnish and Icelandic counterparts have been left behind, even though they frequently seem to be published in every other language; but not English.

But now there’s one more. A bunch of us conspired to get Ragnar Jónasson published in English, pulling strings and passing the word to kick-start the process.

The excellent Karen Sullivan was in the process of setting up her new imprint, Orenda Books, and was able to publish six books in her first year. She managed to secure Ragnar’s Snowblind, his debut novel (published on 20th April on Kindle and 15th June in paperback) as well as his latest novel, Nightblind.

So this is where the step into the unknown began. I was sure I could produce a translation, and hoped it would be up to Karen’s exacting standards, very much aware that for a new publisher with a limited number books in its first year, each book has to count.

Translation is different from writing your own stuff. There are similar technical aspects, but it calls for a different set of skills. There’s no plotting to worry about as the author has already done all the heavy lifting there, but while technical translation calls for precision and accuracy, literary translation also calls for accuracy, but in a different way.

Snowblind cover image

Snowblind cover image

A technical handbook needs to be as close to the original as possible, while still making sense, as anyone who has bought a Chinese-made DVD player with a badly translated handbook will understand. With a novel it’s more about being faithful to the spirit of the author’s words than to those words themselves.

Sentences might need to be rolled together, as Icelandic uses short, sharp sentences. Like this one. That don’t work in English. Punctuation is also a headache and it has taken me years to figure out that a full stop in Icelandic isn’t necessarily the same as a full stop in English. The nature of an Icelandic full stop can depend on the context and it can be the equivalent of a semi-colon, or even a comma, just a pause in a narrative rather than a break, but the context is all-important.

Then there are the idioms that need to be rendered into English, and often enough there isn’t any direct translation that does the original justice or captures the right feel. So some suitable parallel phrase has to be found. Worst of all are jokes, especially a joke or a phrase that relies on an untranslatable play on words. This is where the translator has to go out on a limb and trust instinct that the replacement joke, which may be nowhere even close to the original wording, is strong enough to capture the elusive feel that the author was looking for.

All this has to be achieved without crossing the often very elastic line from being a translator into the other world of being an editor. There should never be a temptation to improve on an author’s work, only to interpret it in the best way possible, and it’s well known that a poor translation can ruin a good book. On the other hand, an inspired translation can lift a good book and make it into something outstanding.

These days I find myself looking for the translator’s name as well as the author’s. I know that if a book translated from French has Frank Wynne’s or Ros Schwartz’s name on it, I’ll be in good hands. The same goes for Anthea Bell, that queen among translators who produced those inspired English-language versions of Asterix the Gaul that were part of my childhood, plus so much else… then there’s Don Bartlett for anything from Norwegian, and this list goes on.

So it has been a challenge. Translation has also been better that the most fiendish crossword for keeping the grey cells active, almost as fiendish as the plotting of Ragnar’s book. There has been much silent muttering and poring over dictionaries, and my vocabulary of obscure Icelandic words has certainly grown.

Would I do it again? I already am… Look out for Nightblind next year, and hopefully a few more of Iceland’s stable of crime writers appearing in English in the next few years.

A huge thank you to Quentin Bates for dropping by today to talk about stepping into the translation zone, and for giving us a peep behind the scenes at Snowblind.

Summerchill cover image

Summerchill cover image

Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson is released as an ebook today and in paperback on 15th June. Here’s the blurb: Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.”

Quentin Bates’ latest book Summerchill (the next in his popular Gunnhildur Gísladóttir series) is out on 7th May and available now for pre-order. Here’s the blurb: It’s the tail end of a hot summer when half of Reykjavík is on holiday and the other half wishes it was. Things are quiet when a man is reported missing from his home in the suburbs. As Gunna and Helgi investigate, it becomes clear that the missing man had secrets of his own that lead to a sinister set of friends, and to someone with little to lose who is a fugitive from both justice and the underworld. It becomes a challenge for Gunna to tail both the victim and his would-be executioner, racing to catch up with at least one of them before they finally meet.”

Beyond the Rage cover image

Beyond the Rage cover image

What the blurb says: “Kenny O’Neill is a criminal with a touch of class about him, a self-made man who’s always one step ahead. But right now he’s raging. His high-class escort girlfriend has been viciously attacked and his father is reaching out from the past – despite abandoning Kenny as a child after his mother’s suicide. Kenny embarks on a dual mission to hunt down his girl’s attacker and find out the truth about his dad … but instead he unravels disturbing family secrets and finds that revenge is not always sweet.”

Kenny O’Neill might be a criminal, but you can’t help but root for him in this pacey thriller. Never one to back away from a fight, and with a highly developed sense of justice (just not necessarily the legal kind) he’s determined to find out who’s behind the vicious attack on Alexis, his escort girlfriend. But when unresolved questions from his past start resurfacing, and those he cares for start getting hurt, he realises that Alexis is not the only target. As the body count rises, Kenny has to call on his friends from both sides of the law if he’s going to find those responsible, and get out alive.

This is a gritty, brutal crime thriller, with plenty of salty language and a nice touch of dark humour. It throws you into Kenny’s (criminal) world and gets you up-close-and-personal with some violent and conniving people. There are loads of fabulous characters, from the elderly mixed martial arts gym owner, to the retired cop who’s never forgotten Kenny’s mothers’ death and his fathers’ disappearance, to Kenny’s mysterious and unpredictable girlfriend, Alexis, and her larger-than-life mother. There’s also a lot of heart.

An atmospheric, compelling, rollercoaster of a read, BEYOND THE RAGE is a fabulous piece of tartan noir.

Highly Recommended.

[with thanks to CONTRABAND for my copy of Beyond the Rage]

 

image001

The London Book Fair (LBF) takes place this week and if you’re heading along make sure to check out Author HQ, with Kindle Direct Publishing, LBF’s dedicated area for established and aspiring writers. Launched as a result of the increasing interest from the self-publishing community, there’s a great line up of speakers – publishers, writers and agents – taking part in the seminar programme.

Representatives from Little, Brown; HarperCollins; Headline; The Orion Publishing Group; Quercus; Pan Macmillan; The Creative Penn; The Alliance of Independent Authors; The Agency Group; Canelo Digital Publishing; The Society of Authors and The Literary Consultancy, AM Heath and David Higham Associates, and more, will be sharing their secrets and expertise.

Each day bestselling Kindle Direct Publishing authors will be talking about their experiences.  Mel Sherratt, Stephanie Hudson and Keith Houghton will be joined by Mark Dawson on Tuesday; by CJ Lyons on Wednesday and by Rachel Abbott on Thursday.   Seminar topics include:

  • Introduction to Publishing
  • Know Your Rights – Legal and Contracts
  • Writing and Reading in the Digital Era
  • The Principles of Successful Book and Book Cover Design
  • Genre Spotlights
  • Publishers and Agents – how they discover new talent
  • Crowdfunding
  • How to Sell Your Book
  • How I Made It – Living the Dream (authors sharing their experiences of launching their writing careers)
  • What It Takes to Get Readers to Turn the Page
  • The Craft of Writing
  • The Rise of Author Collectives
  • Successful Social Media Strategies
  • Effective PR & Marketing
  • Journalists – What are they looking for?

Back for another year, The Write Stuff, a Dragon’s Den-style panel event, will see ten authors pitch their books to a panel of literary agents on Thursday afternoon in front of an audience in Author HQ, for the chance to win a follow up meeting with an agent.

The London Book Fair (14-16 April) has moved to its new venue for 2015 – Olympia, West London.  All Author HQ events are free-to-attend with the purchase of a three-day LBF pass and seminar places are allocated on a first come, first served, basis. Hop on over to www.londonbookfair.co.uk for more information on booking, and for further information on the seminar line up, check out www.londonbookfair.co.uk/authors.

 

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season was one of my top reads of 2014. It’s now out in paperback, and to celebrate I thought I’d re-run my review …

What the blurb says: “When Caleb Wardell, the infamous ‘Chicago Sniper’, escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of Carter Blake, a man with certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don’t want to be found. A man to whom Wardell is no stranger.

Along with Elaine Banner, an ambitious special agent juggling life as a single mother with her increasingly high-flying career, Blake must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random.

But Blake and Banner soon find themselves sidelined from the case. And as they try desperately to second guess a man who kills purely for the thrill of it, they uncover a hornets’ nest of lies and corruption. Now Blake must break the rules and go head to head with the FBI if he is to stop Wardell and expose a deadly conspiracy that will rock the country.”

The Killing Season has everything I love about action thrillers – the intrigue, the danger, the chase and the multi-layered characters. And, it’s Mason Cross’ debut novel, which makes it all the more impressive.

The main character, Carter Blake, is something of an enigma – charismatic, highly skilled, and at the top of his game. But he doesn’t let power and politics get in the way of his investigation, and he makes sure justice is brought, whatever the personal cost. So pairing up with Elaine Banner makes for an interesting working relationship – she’s career-driven and has her eyes on the next promotion, working with a talented maverick like Blake gives her a set of problems she can well do without.

The antagonist – sniper Caleb Wardell – is a smart and cunning adversary, engaging Blake and Banner in a deadly game of cat and mouse. The tension is high from the get-go and just keeps on rising.

So as Banner and Blake pursue Wardell, following the evidence, trying to find a pattern and anticipate his next move, the body count continues to rise. Blake’s the only person who is able to get close, and Banner starts to realise that sometimes the only way to get the job done right is to step away from procedure and follow your instinct.

As Blake and Banner get closer to the truth, they become targets – in the sights of Wardell and someone in the Agency itself – question is, can they get to them both in time, and get out alive?

I cannot sing this novel’s praises highly enough – it’s a joy to read, utterly engaging and kept me hooked right from the first page to the last. There’s high stakes and high tension, and the chemistry between Blake and Banner sizzles off the page.

If you love action thrillers, if you love crime fiction, go and read this book. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Highly Recommended.

[with thanks to Orion for my copy of The Killing Season]

photo-3

DISCLAIMER cover image

DISCLAIMER cover image

What the blurb says: “How would it feel if you came across yourself in a book? It is unmistakably you. Worse, it is about something you have never told anyone – anyone living, that is.

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read. On opening The Perfect Stranger by E.J. Preston, she is horrified to read an account of a day from twenty years ago she’s chosen to forget. Desperate for answers as to who the author is and what they want, she ploughs through the novel, until she reaches the end: the author’s portrayal of Catherine’s death.

Catherine has never met Stephen. But Stephen knows all about Catherine, including the details of her most closely guarded secret, unknown to her husband and son. Now that Stephen has found her secret, he is going to carefully and deliberately expose both it and her, exactly the ultimate revenge.”

At the moment ‘the big twist’ is hugely popular in psychological thrillers. You know, that moment where the reader turns the page and says ‘Oh my God, I never saw that coming – now everything’s changed’? Well, this book has so many ‘oh my God’ moments that I lost count!

Catherine isn’t so much an unreliable narrator as a secretive narrator. She knows the truth about what happened – it’s been festering in her mind, gnawing away at her for the last twenty years – but she still can’t bring herself to think about the details, and make herself relive the horror, of what occurred. So her side of the story remains a mystery to the reader for much of the book.

She hides what’s going on from her husband. As the stress and fear take hold, her life – work, family, self-perception – starts to fall apart, but she still won’t, can’t, tell those important to her the truth. It’s both heart-breaking and maddening (you want her to tell them, to tell you!) – and it makes for an utterly gripping narrative.

And while Catherine’s life comes apart, Stephen’s life is looking up. His plan is working, and he’s feeling more alive, more connected, to his wife, than he has done in many years. He begins to hope that maybe, finally, he’ll have succeeded in claiming some sort of justice.

Both lead characters are compelling and captivating in equal measure. Nuanced and flawed, and utterly real, they make bad choices, have regrets, and struggle to cope with the guilt they carry with them from the past.

I loved the quirky, up-close style of the narrative, and the shifts between past and present tense that really added to the feeling of what happened ‘then’ and what was happening ‘now’.

When I finished this book I sat looking at the cover and thinking about the story. ‘Wow’, I thought. Really, WOW! It is that good.

A heart wrenching, beautifully written and perfectly paced psychological thriller – with big twist after big, jaw-dropping twist – DISCLAIMER is one of my top ‘must reads’ of 2015 so far.

Highly Recommended.

 

[with thanks to Transworld for my copy of DISCLAIMER]