The Poison Tree cover image

The Poison Tree cover image

What the blurb says: “It is London in the sweltering summer of 1997. Karen is a strait-laced, straight-A university student. When she meets the impossibly glamorous Biba, a bohemian orphan who lives in a crumbling mansion in Highgate with her enigmatic brother Rex, she is soon drawn into their world. As the summer progresses, Karen becomes tangled up in their tragic family history and the idyll turns into a nightmare, culminating in murder.

A decade later, Karen collects Rex from prison. Together with their nine-year-old daughter Alice, they try to settle into family life. While Rex has served his time, Karen keeps dark secrets that mean she has her own life sentence to serve. What happened that summer casts a terrifying shadow over her future. Will the past catch up with her?”

I have to confess that this book has been in my To Be Read pile for months. Having opened it up, I was hooked by the claustrophobic immediacy of the prologue and read the whole thing in a single weekend, cursing myself for not having got to it sooner.

After the panicked situation in the prologue, Chapter One starts with conflict of a different kind, Rex is coming home from prison and Karen, Alice and Rex are all having to adjust. As they start to live, for the first time, as a family, Karen finds herself remembering the sequence of events that led to murder all those years before.

This is one of those books that gets into your head and keeps you trying to guess what happened. The reader knows that Karen has secrets, things she’s never told anyone, not even Rex. As the 1997 timeline unfolds, Karen turns from disciplined student to bohemian party girl. The writing is so vivid, the descriptions so atmospheric, that you can almost feel the heat on your skin, see the wine in your glass and imagine yourself joining in with the endless house parties hosted by Biba. But as the long, hot summer plays out, and Biba’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic,  cracks, tensions and jealousy cause events in the seemingly carefree household to take a deeply sinister turn.

I especially loved the characters of Karen – the diligent student on a journey of self discovery, Rex – the sensible, reliable one who’d do anything for his sister, and Biba – beautiful, neurotic and gifted. As the story progresses, and the events of 1997 return to threaten Karen and her family in the present, the tension reaches its climax and Karen is, once again, pushed to her limits. Like all great psychological thrillers, this story keeps you guessing what will happen right to the very end, and finishes with a shocking dramatic twist.

The Poison Tree was a major ITV drama, a Richard & Judy Summer Read in 2011, and was longlisted for the 2011 CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger Award.

Highly recommended.

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

What the blurb says: “Stephen Killigan has been cold since the day he came to Cambridge as a senior lecturer. Something about the seven hundred years of history staining the stones of the university has given him a chill he can’t shake. When he stumbles across the body of a missing beauty queen, he thinks he’s found the reason. But when the police go to retrieve the body they find no trace of it. Killigan has found a problem – and a killer – that is the very opposite of reason.

Killingan’s unwitting entry into the sinister world of Jackamore Grass will lead him on a trail of tattooists, philosophers, cadavers and scholars of a deadly beauty. As Killigan traces a path between our age and seventeenth-century Cambridge, he must work out how it is that a person’s corpse can be found before they even go missing, and whether he’s being pushed towards the edge of madness or an astonishing discovery.”

Wow. Wow. Wow. They are the first three words (or one word repeated) that comes into my mind on finishing The Beauty of Murder.

This is a literary crime thriller which ticks all the boxes with a flourish: intriguing characters, fascinating storylines, gorgeous settings, beautiful prose and a sprinting pace. And it’s A K Benedict’s debut novel.

Stephen Killigan is a likable guy – he’s smart, likes a beer (or two, or more), and is looking for love. He also wants to do the right thing when he discovers the body of a missing woman. But being a good citizen soon turns out to be the start of a journey that threatens to destroy all he holds dear. When the police find no trace of the body, Stephen is determined to find out what happened to her. But as he finds clues to the mystery, each one makes less sense than that before it. Is he losing his mind as so many suggest? As the body count rises, and the links of the modern-day murders with those in 1635 become clearer to him, Stephen becomes the prime suspect. Yet he finds an unlikely friend in Inspector Jane Horne, who is trying to solve the series of seemingly unsolvable cases whilst keeping her own private health battles secret from those at work.

The Beauty of Murder is filled with unusual, memorable supporting characters like Stephen’s friend, Satnam, who likes a few beers and loves the girl in the library, and Robert Sachs, the “poncey philosopher who loves himself” who muses over the beauty of the dead. I think my favorite of these is Iris Burton, the eccentric academic who takes it upon herself to teach Stephen Killigan about time travel including what to carry in your kit bag and how to avoid paradoxes (in my mind she was played by Helena Bonham Carter!).

The relationship between Stephen Killigan and Jackamore Grass has real Sherlock/Moriarty feel to it: two highly intelligent men pitting their wits (and their lives) against each other to solve the mystery (in Stephen’s case) and win the game (in Jackamore’s case). Jackamore, who finds getting away with murder tiresomely easy, is pleased to at last have a worthy opponent, but as Stephen hones his skills and closes in on the truth, Jackamore starts to pick his victims from those close to Stephen.

Quirky, mind (and time) bending, and compulsively addictive, this is an outstanding literary crime thriller. I can’t wait to see more from this author.

The Beauty of Murder is out on 10th April in paperback and available for pre-order over on the Amazon website right now.

Highly recommended.

[I bought my copy of The Beauty of Murder]

London Book Fair Logo

London Book Fair Logo

This week London Book Fair takes over Earls Court, London. Author HQ has been set up for established and aspiring authors and I hear that they’ve loads of things on offer at this year’s Fair. Sponsored by Kindle Direct Publishing, LBF are hosting a three day seminar programme from Tuesday 8th – Thursday 10th April, with speakers including publishers, authors and agents, all ready to share their advice and experience on how to get published.

Each day of seminars start with an Introduction to Publishing, where four experts will present a whistle-stop tour of publishing in 45 minutes – and a quick fire publishing industry overview, with an editor, literary agent and bookseller talking about their specific areas of expertise. There will also be a daily slot by independent bestselling authors who will discuss using Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace to fuel readership growth.

There’s also the chance of having a free professional photo shoot at Author HQ (sponsored by Kobo Writing Life) and you can book your slot online at https://vrcoordinator.wufoo.eu/forms/book-your-professional-photo-shoot-lbf/

Attendees are  invited to come along and support ten authors taking part in The Write Stuff, a Dragon’s Den-style panel event which will see them pitch their books to a panel of four literary agents. And, after each busy day, there’s the chance to have a drink and network with other authors and publishing professionals.

For more info, and to check out the full Author HQ programme hop on over to: http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/authors

 

TAKEDOWN cover image (Kindle)

TAKEDOWN cover image (Kindle)

What the blurb says: “After an op in Istanbul goes sour, all Alexandra Poe wants is a little down time, and a chance to finally sell off the family vacation home in Key Largo which carries too many painful memories.

Instead, she finds herself on a private Bahamian island, working with Deuce and Cooper to relieve a human rodent of some very sensitive codes, and to take down one of the world’s most notorious terrorists. Just another job for Stonewell International. Or is it?

What Alex doesn’t realize is that she’s about to get caught up in a twisted maze of shifting allegiances that forces her to face those painful memories head on–even if it’s the last thing she ever does…”

This second book in the Alexandra Poe thriller series is actually the first one I’ve read. The series is a collaboration written by two authors already well known in the genre – Brett Battles (Barry Award winning author, founder member of Killer Year, and member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America) and Robert Gregory Browne (AMPAS Nicholl Fellowship-winning screenwriter and ITW Thriller Award-nominated novelist).

It’s an action-paced, fast paced, adrenalin-rush of a read from the opening chapter to the last. Alexandra Poe is a skilled and smart operative, hunting her mark and adapting her plans as problems threaten the mission. She’s used to being in control, but on this job something is different – her focus is off, the conflict she’s feeling over an offer on her parents’ beach house is preying on her mind.

Then people from her personal life start showing up in the most unexpected, and dangerous, locations. It seems that the job on the beautiful Bahamian island isn’t all that she and the team believed it to be. As the bodycount rises, and danger closes in, Alexandra has to figure out who she can really trust, because one wrong move and her and her team won’t be making it off the island alive.

I devoured this book in a weekend. It’s a fun and lively read, and a must for all those who enjoy a fast-paced action thriller.

Highly Recommended.

 

[I bought my own Kindle copy of TAKEDOWN]

DEAD GONE cover image

DEAD GONE cover image

What the blurb says: “The young girl you have found isn’t the first experiment I’ve carried out. She won’t be the last.

A serial killer is stalking the streets of Liverpool, gruesomely murdering victims as part of a series of infamous, unethical and deadly psychological experiments.

When it becomes apparent that each victim has ties to the City of Liverpool University, DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi realise they’re chasing a killer unlike any they’ve hunted before – one who doesn’t just want his victims’ bodies, but wants their minds too.”

If you like your crime fiction dark, chilling and psychologically thrilling Luca Veste is a debut author you’re really going to want to read.

DI David Murphy, highly experienced but still reeling from personal loss, and his protégé, DS Laura Rossi, lead the hunt for a highly intelligent killer. But this is Murphy’s first murder case since a horrific attack caused the death of his parents. Still suffering flashbacks to the gruesome events of that day, the pressure and brutality of the killer under investigation threatens to tip him over the edge.

Masterfully told, through the eyes of the detectives, the victims, and the killer, the story keeps you guessing with plenty of twists and turns, and multiple possible suspects, without ever seeming contrived.

Dead Gone straddles the line between police procedural and psychological thriller, taking the best from both to create a tense and thought-provoking serial killer novel.

Highly Recommended.

[with thanks to Avon Books for my copy of Dead Gone]

Want to find out more about Luca Veste? Click this link to read our recent interview with him.

NEVER GO BACK cover image

NEVER GO BACK cover image

Reacher fans will be delighted to learn that NEVER GO BACK is out in paperback today (27th March) in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and on Tuesday 1st April in the US and Canada.

Plus, as an added bonus, the paperback edition also features a quick peep at the next Reacher book – PERSONAL – that’s due for release later this year. Today you can also read it online by hoping on over to http://leechild.com/books/personal.php 

NEVER GO BACK was one of our favourite books of 2013 and here at the CTG blog we’re counting down the days until PERSONAL is released – especially now we’ve read the teaser on leechild.com

But, in the meantime, to get your Reacher fix check out NEVER GO BACK.

Here’s our review …

NEVER GO BACK – What the blurb says: “After an epic and interrupted journey all the way from the snows of South Dakota, Jack Reacher has finally made it to Virginia. His destination: a sturdy stone building a short bus ride from Washington DC, the headquarters of his old unit, the 110th MP. It was the closest thing to a home he ever had. Why? He wants to meet the new commanding officer, Major Susan Turner. He liked her voice on the phone. But the officer sitting behind Reacher’s old desk isn’t a woman. Why is Susan Turner not there? What Reacher doesn’t expect is what comes next. He himself is in big trouble, accused of a sixteen-year-old homicide. And he certainly doesn’t expect to hear these words: ‘You’re back in the army, Major. And your ass is mine.’ Will he be sorry he went back? Or – will someone else?”

Classic Reacher. Unputdownable.

When I was halfway through this book I started to slow down, I was so enjoying the story that I wanted to make it last longer. Now that, to me, is a great book. In fact, I think this might just be my new favourite of the series – and that’s a tough call to make because they are all so good.

Anyway, this book sees Reacher finally getting to Virginia. Only Major Susan Turner isn’t there and Reacher is recalled back into the army to face an old homicide charge (and another, more personal relationship-based, legal situation). But does Reacher quit? Of course not, he’s going to find out why both he and Susan Turner are being held on trumped-up charges, and ensure that justice is served.

So I’m not going to discuss the plot further than that because, quite frankly, you need to discover it as you read and I really don’t want to spoil it for you.

What I will say though is that this book is a little different to the majority of the others in the series due to the depth of connection between Reacher and Major Susan Turner. Reacher isn’t alone. Sure, you might say that in previous books he’s always teamed up with someone (often a woman) to sort out whatever situation he’s uncovered. But this is different. With Susan Turner the connection is way more than professional and way more than physical. This isn’t a knight rescuing a damsel in distress. This is a pair of knights, a partnership of equals, a meeting of minds, bodies and souls. And it makes for some gripping reading.

It also shows elements of Reacher that have been less touched upon in other books. Yes, sure, there’s still the great action sequences at the series is famous for, and Reacher is just as tough and able to win a fight (even with his hands behind his back) and he’s super smart at thinking through the complex problems that he encounters. But this time the personal stakes are higher, and so is the tension.

In this book, more than any other, Reacher has the chance to put down roots and, for the first time, it seems like he’s really considering it. Question is, after so long on the road, will he?

Highly recommended.

 

[I bought my copy of NEVER GO BACK from Waterstones book shop]

Author Rachel Abbott

Author Rachel Abbott

Today I’d like to welcome Rachel Abbott, who has dropped in to the CTG blog to answer a few of our questions. So, to business …

Your new book, SLEEP TIGHT, came out last month. Can you tell us a bit about it?

SLEEP TIGHT is a psychological thriller, which poses the question “how far would you go to hold on to the people you love?” It’s a story of obsession, deception and retribution.

The story opens when Olivia Brookes calls the police because her husband took the children out for a pizza, and he hasn’t come home. Has there been an accident? But the police don’t think so.

The problem is, this isn’t the first time that Olivia has had to contact the police. Seven years earlier her boyfriend and father of her first child called to say he was on his way home. But he never arrived.

To say any more about this story would give too much away. It was incredibly difficult to write the blurb for the cover for that very reason. Just let’s say that things are not always as they seem, and some times good people are forced to do bad things.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

I am a huge planner. I don’t always stick to the plan, but I have to really understand my characters and what is motivating them before I start. So I have detailed character outlines for each of them usually including a picture that I find on Google images. I know what their favourite drinks are, what colour lipstick they wear (when appropriate, of course), their hobbies, the biggest thing that has ever happened to them, and what their story goal is. It is so easy to write books in which the characters can’t be differentiated, and to avoid that I want to get to know my characters really well.

In addition to having a plot timeline, I also have character timelines. I need to know what year they were born, when they met their partners, when their children were born – things that happen outside of the story, but may be referenced. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book and thought “that’s not right – the child would have only been two at the time” or something similar.

And then because my books tend to have complex plots, I flowchart the main themes. This is the bit that sometimes goes to pot when I’m writing because the story starts to have a life of its own. But I use a piece of software called Scrivener to write my first draft. With that, I can attach keywords to individual scenes, with each keyword relating to a plot point in the story. I can then search on these keywords and reveal only the scenes that are relevant. That way, I can check each element of the story to make sure there are no loose ends or inconsistencies.

What books and authors have inspired you as a reader and writer?

I think my early inspiration came from Daphne du Maurier. I would say that Rebecca is one of my favourite books of all times – and of course, just like my books, in Rebecca you could say that good people are moved to do bad things. It was the whole sense of suspicion and threat that had me hooked, but a great love story at the same time.

Writers like Val McDermid are responsible for raising my interest in thrillers, and Harlan Coben’s early stand alone books made me think about writing from the perspective of the protagonist instead of always from the point of view of the police. I am now a fan of Sharon Bolton’s books too, which can be really dark. I am a member of a book club now, though, and trying hard to read as many non-thrillers as possible.

Sleep Tight cover image

Sleep Tight cover image

What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?

Make sure you do your research. Even if you decide to stretch the truth, be sure you have your facts right. There was one point in SLEEP TIGHT that I thought was a pretty safe bet – part of the book is set on Alderney, which is classed as the UK (it’s a Crown Dependency) and I assumed that – should it be necessary – a British policeman could arrest a suspect on Alderney. Not true! Fortunately, I happened to mention in passing to one of the two Alderney policemen, and he put me straight. So it really is important to check every detail.

Other than that, I would advise any writer to have their book professionally edited. I always believed that editing meant proof reading, and had no idea what it REALLY meant. There is the structural editing in which you might be told to cut things down, reorganise them, change points of view – and that can be expensive. But as a minimum you need a proper copy-edit – somebody to tell you about inconsistencies as well as typos. My copy edits are more red than black when they come back – but it’s all really good stuff. My copy editor picked up things such as two different people being described as deranged, even though the descriptions were a hundred pages apart. Repetition of words is a huge thing that they can help you to improve on, and I would seriously consider this.

But other than that, make sure your book is as good as it possibly can be, with a great title and then if you can’t find an agent or a publisher, don’t be frightened to self-publish. But if you do, you need to ask yourself a question: why are you publishing your book? The three most obvious answers would be:

I just want to see it in print (or virtual print). If that’s the case, stick it up there, and admire your Amazon page from time to time, and get on with the next book

I want as many people as possible to read my book, but I’m not concerned with making money.If that’s the case, consider using Amazon’s free posting and just make sure you let as many of the free sites know as possible.

I want my book to be a commercial success. If that’s what you want, then not only do you have to be sure your book is the best it can possibly be, but also you need to learn about marketing, and you are going to have to dedicate some time to getting it noticed. And you are probably going to have to pay for a really good cover design.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

I am really looking forward to the rest of this year. I am starting on my new novel, and I am going to be attending a few events in the UK over the course of the year, including the London Book Fair, the Literary Festival and the Crime Festival at Harrogate, so I’m hoping to meet a lot of people that up to now I have only spoken to on Twitter or Facebook.

I’m also hoping to move in to a new place to live, which, if I can reach agreement with the current owners, will be a spectacular home overlooking the sea. I’m also hoping to take a trip up the Irrawaddy River in Burma – but that’s gone on the back burner a bit because of the move and the new book. But there’s certainly plenty to be excited about.

It sounds like it’s going to be a busy year!

A huge thank to you Rachel Abbott for dropping by and answering our questions.

You can find out more about SLEEP TIGHT and Rachel’s other books on her website over at http://www.rachel-abbott.com/ on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RachelAbbott1Writer and follow her on Twitter as @Rachel_Abbott