The Dying Place cover image

The Dying Place cover image

What the blurb says:

Once inside THERE’S NO WAY OUT…

DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi make a grisly discovery. The body of a teenage boy, dumped in front of a church in Liverpool. His torso covered with the unmistakable marks of torture.

And a shocking fact soon comes to light. Seventeen-year-old Dean Hughes was reported missing six months ago, yet no one has been looking for him. A known troublemaker, who cared if he was dead or alive?

But soon the police realise Dean isn’t the only boy who’s gone missing in similar circumstances. Someone has been abducting troubled teens. Someone who thinks they’re above the law. Someone with terrifying plans for them.”

As a big fan of Luca Veste’s debut novel – Dead Gone – I was thrilled to get my hands on an early copy of the second book in the Murphy and Rossi series – The Dying Place. And, as with his first book, Veste weaves a twisting, turning plot to skillfully produce a fast-paced police procedural that keeps you guessing right to the end.

When the body of a murdered teenager is found outside a church, Murphy and Rossi are called in to investigate. As they delve deeper into the case it becomes clear that someone, or some people, are taking teenagers off the street and holding them against their will, trying to ‘re-train’ them through a brutal form of national service.

This is a hard book to review without giving away any spoilers [and you know how I hate to do that!] but what I will say is that Veste’s Liverpool is an unsettling, dangerous place where frustrations between the older generation and the young run high.

Told through multiple points of view, the story highlights the impact of violent crime on victims’ families – on the parents whose children don’t ever return home and on the adult children whose elderly parents fall victim to teenage gangs – with a nod towards how depending on where you live, and what job you (or your parents have) the value of your life might be perceived by the media.

It also shows how grief can twist into vengeance and how that can be a powerful motivator, exploring the theme of vigilante justice in an up-close and disturbingly convincing way through the eyes of the characters.

As in Dead Gone, Murphy and Rossi are a brilliantly paired double act; the strong bond between them showing through their ever-present banter, and their unswerving loyalty in the face of adversity.

Engaging and thought provoking, The Dying Place is a truly gripping read.

Highly Recommended

 

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The Maze cover image

The Maze cover image

What the blurb says: In the latest Harbour Master story, maverick Amsterdam cop Henk van der Pol roves further afield, to Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels – investigating a maze-like set of cases involving diamonds, fine art, drugs and high-class prostitution. What connects the cases, and what risks must Henk run to uncover the criminals? Impeding him is his rival and boss Joost, who has an equal but quite separate interest in the investigation’s outcome. Upon discovering the connection between the cases, Henk must confront challenges at a higher and more dangerous level of the Dutch state.”

The Maze is the second story in Daniel Pembrey’s popular Harbour Master II novella series, and the first in the series that I’ve read.

It’s also the first crime book with a Dutch detective lead character that I’ve read in a very long time and I really enjoyed reading a story set in different cities to those I often read about.

Henk van der Pol makes for a great lead character – he’s strong willed, courageous and determined to unravel the cases he encounters and serve justice – no matter how complicated they might be. Which is good, because The Maze sees him challenged by a spate of seemingly unrelated cases. As Henk digs deeper into the evidence he begins to see a pattern, but encounters trouble and obstruction where he least expects it – within the police service. As he connects the cases, and sees the potential political implications, he has to call in favours from those in his past in order to bring those responsible to justice – and to stay alive.

Henk’s wife, Pernilla, and daughter, Nadia, feature strongly within the story as Henk tries to balance his family responsibilities with his work and his wife becomes anxious as their daughter becomes increasingly distant. As the investigation takes him from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels, and his wife becomes increasingly concerned, Henk is torn between his competing priorities.

A fast paced, page-turner of a story – this crime thriller a fabulous read. At 108 pages it’s perfect to read in one sitting on a lazy Sunday afternoon or a long train ride, or to enjoy in daily instalments.

Highly Recommended.

 

To find out more about Daniel Pembrey’s books hop on over to his website at http://danielpembrey.com/books/

You can also follow him on Twitter @DPemb

 

[many thanks to Daniel Pembrey for my copy of The Maze]

 

Exciting news about some new books to look forward to for crime thriller enthusiasts.

Brand-new independent publishing company Orenda Books, headed up by ex-Arcadia Books’ managing editor Karen Sullivan, have announced their first three authors.

First up is Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson and his books Snowblind and Dark Night. These are the first two books in the Dark Iceland series, which features young policeman Ari Thor, whose first case drags him straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. In the extreme, isolated setting the tension builds as the 24-hour darkness and unremitting snowstorms threaten to push Ari over the edge. Dark Night offers a tension of its own – two bright summer days fail to shed light on the identity of a murderer, as the action swings from Reykjavik to the small northern town of Siglufjörður, and Ari struggles to get his personal affairs in order against the background of an increasingly complex and chilling investigation. The first novel, Snowblind, will be published in spring 2015, to coincide with CrimeFest.

Next up is eco-thriller The Abrupt Physics of Dying, by Canadian-Australian author Paul E. Hardisty. Set in Yemen, The Abrupt Physics of Dying features Claymore Straker, an oil engineer struggling to forget his violent past. Hijacked by Islamic terrorists, Clay is given a choice: help uncover the cause of a mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company’s oil-processing facility, or watch Abdulkader, his driver and close friend, die. As the country descends into civil war and village children start dying, Clay finds himself caught up in a ruthless struggle between opposing armies, controllers of the country’s oil wealth, Yemen’s shadowy secret service, and rival terrorist factions.

And last, but certainly not least, is David F. Ross whose beautifully rendered Ayrshire-set, coming-of-age story The Last Days of Disco draws comparisons with Roddy Doyle and Irvine Welsh.

So make sure you keep up to speed with all Orenda Books’ latest news about their books and authors by following them in the Twitterverse @OrendaBooks

 

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

A few weeks ago I caught up with Helen Giltrow, author of the fabulous crime thriller The Distance. Over a long lunch, sitting in the sun-drenched garden of a beautiful Oxfordshire pub, we tried to out-booknerd each other and talked all things books and writing.

First, a quick reminder about the book. Here’s what the blurb says:

“Charlotte Alton has put her old life behind her. The life where she bought and sold information, unearthing secrets buried too deep for anyone else to find, or fabricating new identities for people who need their histories erased.

But now she has been offered one more job. To get a hit-man into an experimental new prison and take out someone who according to the records isn’t there at all.

It’s impossible. A suicide mission. And quite possibly a set-up. So why can’t she say no?”

And so, to the questions …

Karla/Charlotte is a fabulous, strong female lead. What was your inspiration for creating her?

Well, originally the main character was supposed to be the hit-man, Simon Johanssen, and Karla was the character he went to for information. In the earliest draft she didn’t appear until the third chapter. Around that time I went on an Arvon writing course with Val McDermid as one of the tutors. When Val read the opening, she said that the first couple of chapters were okay, but the story got really interesting when Karla appeared.

Shortly afterwards, I had to take an eighteen month break from writing and by the time I went back to the story I knew it needed to be Karla’s book. I found Karla easy to write, in fact I probably share a few of her characteristics – like her need for control, and her obsessiveness!

The Distance – which I loved – is set in the near future. What made you decide that as your setting rather than the present day?

The setting came out of the plot and the characters. Johanssen has to break into a prison to carry out a hit on another prisoner, but as that prisoner is a woman – and we don’t have mixed prisons here in the UK – I needed a near-future setting to make it work. So, really, it wasn’t something I chose, it came from the needs of the story.

But it’s not a futuristic novel – the setting’s only a couple of years ahead of where we are now.

You use the present tense throughout The Distance which works really well. What was it that prompted you to go for present tense?

I didn’t plan it consciously. It was just that when I started writing, Johanssen’s viewpoint came out in the present tense. I was surprised as I’d always written in the past tense before, but I found I liked it. Then, when I switched to Karla’s viewpoint, present tense seemed to work for her too.

Karla’s scenes are all told in first person – she’s the ‘I’ of the story. Again, it’s just how it came out when I started writing in her viewpoint, whereas Johanssen’s automatically came out in third person – ‘he’. I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t be mixing the two, so I experimented early on, trying Karla’s viewpoint in third, but I didn’t like it – it lost so much of her intensity – so I carried on going with first.

Curiously I’ve had readers tell me that Johanssen’s story is told in first person too – which is wrong, but great! I don’t want readers to think I’m telling them a story. I want them to see it through the characters’ eyes. Of course, present tense helps with that sense of immediacy too. And it really ups the pace.

Helen Giltrow (c) Paul Stuart

Helen Giltrow (c) Paul Stuart

For you, does the creative process start with the character/s, the plot or a combination of the two (or something else)?

For me it’s character. I think even if you have an idea for something, the only way to get to it is through character – you bring out the story from the actions of the characters and what happens to them.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Bit of both! From my childhood up to my early thirties, I wrote a lot without too much planning, but increasingly I felt it wasn’t working for me – the narratives were too loose. I’d have loads of ideas, then fail to tie them together. My job involved a lot of planning, so I thought I ought to be able to plot. I mean, how hard could it be? So when I started work on The Distance, I decided to do a plan. Of course, as soon as I began writing in earnest, I started coming up with ideas I liked better, and dumped the plan completely!

The lure of advance plotting is still strong, and occasionally I fall into the trap of trying to write a detailed plan. I do it because I think it’ll give me the perfect book – which would spare me so much revising and redrafting. But every time the same thing happens. I never find plotting a happy experience: it’s always an outside-in process, whereas writing’s inside-out.

Having said that, it’s hard writing into a void! I think making a plan’s really useful if it’s the thing that gets you writing, or if it helps you get unstuck. Now I tend to write a bit, and then see where I am and retrospectively plan.

What’s your favourite drink?

Oh, definitely my cup of coffee in the morning, before I sit down to work.

Where’s your best place to write?

I’m not one of those people who can write anywhere, on buses or on park benches. I’m best sitting at my desk at home. I write on my battered old laptop; I ought to buy a new one, but I’m slightly scared of changing it now, in case that jinxes me … Does that sound weird?

What advice would you give to writers aspiring to publication?

There’s all the obvious advice like ‘Don’t give up,’ ‘Write every day,’ and ‘Don’t try to second guess the market.’ And that’s all valid. I also think it’s best to write what you want to write because ultimately if you don’t like it it’ll show in your writing. It takes a long time to write a book, so you’re better off writing one you want to read – that way you’re more likely to take the reader with you on the journey.

And lastly, what’s next for you?

I’m back at my laptop, writing the next book!

A huge thank you to Helen Giltrow for letting us grill her.

You can find out more about Helen and her fabulous debut novel – The Distance – over at https://www.orionbooks.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781409126621 and follow her on Twitter @HelenGiltrow

Truth or Dare cover image

Truth or Dare cover image

What the blurb says: “Darren Richards opens his eyes to find himself duct-taped to a chair with a crossbow pointing at him. Behind the crossbow is a hooded figure wearing a black-faced, round-eyed gas mask. The figure tells him what Darren knows: that he stole a car, drove it recklessly while under the influence of drugs and killed a woman and her baby. His solicitor managed to get the case thrown out of court so he has not paid for his crime. That, says the figure, cannot be allowed.

Darren turns to his right. Next to him are his girlfriend and their baby daughter. Both similarly taped to a chair, gagged. It’s very simple, explains the figure. Either you die or your girlfriend and child die. But someone has to pay. A life for a life. The choice is Darren’s …”

Tania Carver is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Every book is fresh and inventive, and as readers of the series will have come to expect, unflinchingly dark, creepy, and nail-bitingly tense.

The last book in the series – The Doll’s House – set the bar exceedingly high, but Truth or Dare boldly picks up the baton and continues to evolve the characters throughout another fabulous read.

The story starts with a Darren Richards being forced to make a horrific choice – his life, or that of his family. Right from the outset, the ‘Lawgiver’ shows just how serious he is about his mission to serve justice where he believes the criminal justice system has failed. Enter Detective Inspector Phil Brennan and his team – investigating what looks set to become a serial killer case in Phil’s new home of Birmingham. When the killer’s attempts to get Phil on-side with his crusade fail, the vendetta gets personal, and soon Phil and his team are very much in danger.

Meanwhile, Phil’s wife, Marina, takes a trip back to their old London stomping ground to consult on a case for her old team. When a suspicious death occurs after Marina’s visit, an old adversary makes a surprise return, putting in motion a chain of events that ends with devastating consequences.

What I especially admired in this book is the skilful way the author touches on issues of morality, social justice and economic deprivation in relation to attitudes and motivations towards crime, without ever becoming preachy. The characters feel real and fully drawn; the settings gritty, grimy and highly atmospheric.

The two cases, and the introduction of two highly individual antagonists – one male, one female – makes for some serious tension and a whole lot of creepiness!

The duo of Phil and Marina is, as always, a pleasure to read about. Both are strong, independent characters in their own right, but they’re also a great team and have a strong and enduring relationship (which is good, because this is an author who likes to truly put his characters in peril!). The way that they support each other, even when separated by geographic distance, makes for compelling reading.

Tightly plotted, with a rapid pace and twists that will blindside you, this is a super-moreish read.

Highly Recommended.

 

[with thanks to Sphere for my copy of Truth or Dare]

 

 

The Female in Crime Fiction panel being introduced

The Female in Crime Fiction panel being introduced

Last weekend was Bloody Scotland 2014. This hugely friendly and welcoming crime writing festival is going from strength to strength. Now in its third year, the festival played host to a plethora of crime writers in three days of entertaining, informative and massively fun events.

Having spent the best part of seven hours on trains travelling from my home to Stirling, I met up with some friends at the Stirling Highland Hotel and then headed over to Hotel Colessio for Mark Billingham and Stuart McBride’s Dead Funny event. As with the Billingham and Brookmyre double act last year, Billingham and McBride answering questions from readers (allegedly) made for a hilarious evening with McBride’s dark poetry, and the skilful answering by both authors of some rather random questions from the audience, real high spots.

Next morning, Saturday, I helped out SJI Holiday (acting as her notetaker) at an interview with Kati Hirekkapelto, author of fabulous book The Hummingbird, before having a quick walk around Stirling – seeing the Castle, the city walls, and peering into the old Gaol.

Then it was off to the New Blood/Fresh Meat panel featuring Eva Dolan, Hania Allen, and Mason Cross. Each of the panel began by reading from their debut novels – three different styles and stories, and all super gripping. Then, led by moderator Peggy Hughes, they spoke about how they got the idea for the novel, the research they did, and what their route to publication was like.

At the same time, the Scotland versus England 5-a-side Football match was taking place. With Ian Rankin captaining Scotland and Mark Billingham captaining England there was a good turnout to watch the battle commence and the #BloodyScotland twitter feed was alive with score updates and photos. After a tense game, the final score was Scotland 13 – England 1, and the magnificent silver trophy went to Scotland.

Next up, I went along to The Female in Crime Fiction (in association with Glasgow Women’s Library) panel with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Lin Anderson, and Catriona McPherson. The panel debated female protagonists in crime fiction (including how many crime books would pass the Bechdel test which looks at whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man), the joy of reading a thriller that compels you to turn the page (crime writing top tip – always keep the secret withheld as long as you can!), and why it might be that women make up more than half the readership of crime fiction.

The next panel featured Luca Veste, Michael Malone, and Martyn Waites, chaired by Mark Billingham. This lively and entertaining panel discussed their most recent books, the importance of location and why they’d chosen to locate their books where they had, how they go about doing research, their route to publication and how Martyn Waites came to take on his alter ego – Tanya Carver.

The final event of the day was Ian Rankin in conversation with Kathy Reichs. This session in the Albert Halls seemed to fly by with Kathy Reichs talking about her route to publication, what it’s like working on a long running TV show (having to think up new murders after 200 episodes being one of the challenges!) and what it’s like co-writing a YA series with her son.

Then it was off to dinner with friends at the amazing Maharaja curry house before chatting in the bar well into the early hours.

On Sunday I was actually part of an event rather than just watching. Having submitted a 100 word synopsis for the Pitch Perfect session I was excited (and terrified) to hear that my story was one of seven that had been picked to be pitched. Along with the other six pitchers I was ushered into the green room and introduced to the wonderful Jenny Brown who chaired the session. From there it was on to the event with publishers Alison Hennessey (Harvill Secker), Krystyna Green (Constable & Robinson) and Tricia Jackson (Pan MacMillan) on the panel. Each pitcher had three minutes to pitch their story. There were some great pitches, and I think it was probably the longest three minutes of my life! But good fun and I’d definitely recommend it. The panel were friendly and their feedback hugely helpful, and Margaret Stewart was a most deserving winner.

And then it was over.

As I set off on my journey home, I reflected on what a fantastic weekend I’d had – great panels, a fabulous location, a warm and friendly atmosphere and the chance to catch up with all my writerly pals.

The seven hour trip was definitely worth it.

 

Specsavers

Those experimental folks at Specsavers and Penguin are launching a new literary experiment today – #ChooseThePlot.

They’re inviting crime thriller fans to get involved in the creation of a new novella through the online crime community Dead Good Books.

#ChooseThePlot will use social media to get your views on the plot, steering the story for crime writers Christopher Fowler, James Oswald and Jane Casey to write. Each author will write a chapter following on from the last, shaping the story and adding their own unique take on the situations presented to them.

On 24th October, at the end of this experimental process, a digital only eBook of the novella will be available to download for free.

Penguin

To get involved with #ChooseThePlot hop on over to www.specsavers.co.uk/choosetheplot where you’ll find all the info on how to get involved and the details of how the stories are progressing.

Happy plotting!