Today I’m handing over the reins of the CTG blog to crime writer V.M. Giambanco who’s talking about how she learnt storytelling from the masters …

Telling stories is a dizzying business. When an idea begins to find its legs and pulls the writer into unknown territory with a wink and a shove, it is always possible to see that energy on paper, the sheer joy that went into the construction of that story.

If someone is interested in writing – let alone crime fiction writing, which lives and dies in the layering of action, information and resolution – it is crucial to understand and relish how stories come together.

I have always been intrigued by storytelling and before I wrote ‘The Gift Of Darkness’, the first book in the Alice Madison series, I worked for many years in film editing and was involved in all kinds of projects, from romantic comedies to Mafia thrillers and Bollywood-style musicals, and I have always been keen to see how different elements fit together – or perhaps how they don’t fit together at all. Yes, I’ve been involved in some pretty awful pictures too.

These are some of my favourite examples of storytelling and any aspiring crime-writer could do a lot worse than look at these different films, take them apart and put them back together. They might not necessarily be crime-related but some particular elements make them relevant and significant.

‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’are masterpieces in the building of suspense around an unseen enemy who takes innocent lives – a kind of serial killer, if you will, and that’s definitely a familiar type of device in crime fiction.

Both films have unusual heroes: the first, a cop who is afraid of water; the second, a woman pushed into leadership by extreme circumstances. The tone of the stories is very different: ‘Jaws’ has a lighter atmosphere with humour and moments of comedy while ‘Alien’ is relentlessly grim, and even in the early parts of the film – when all the characters are still alive – there is the constant, claustrophobic feeling that they are surrounded by an environment that is just waiting to kill them. Outer space after all is the ultimate psychopath: fascinating and lethal.

Two small gems in terms of building tension are the scene when Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is looking for the xenomorph in the air-ducts in ‘Alien’ and the scene when Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) reacts to viewing the remains of the first victim in ‘Jaws’.

By the way, we never see those remains: instead we are left with the impression of something so awful, so upsetting that even a capable scientist like Hooper is left choking and gasping for a glass of water. Both films are cunning in the art of withholding information and letting us imagine the worst – believe it or not, the Alien was on screen for less than four minutes in total; second for second it was better value than Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ who’s on screen for just under sixteen minutes.

Point in question, when Ridley Scott was casting the part of Brett he told Harry Dean Stanton that ‘Alien’ was ‘Ten Little Indians’ in space. Stanton took the part and was rewarded with an unforgettable scene.

It is a well-known fact that Steven Spielberg took ‘Jaws’, written by Peter Benchley, and re-worked it extensively: gone are the sub-plots about the affair between Hooper and Ellen Brody (the hero-cop’s wife) and about the Mayor involvement with the Mafia.

The story in the film is utterly streamlined but it manages to create fully shaded characters using quiet scenes in the middle of the inexorable hunt – moments like Brody at dinner with his son and Quint telling the story of the USS Indianapolis, a ship in WW2 which sank after delivering the nuclear bomb and whose crew was mostly killed by sharks in open water.

The skill of the writers (Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb) and the director is that they give us unflagging pace and yet we have characters that feel real, not just a jumble of clichés waiting for the next set piece.

There are a number of devices in the ending of ‘Alien’ – like failing to abort the self-destruct sequence and the reappearance of the ‘villain’ when all seems safe – however Ridley Scott was at the top of his game and even those clichés miraculously work in a nerve-racking last few minutes.

After all these years I still love ‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’ because they grab me by the lapels and keep me hooked, and that’s what great storytelling does, whatever the medium. Crime fiction should definitely grab you by the lapels and give you a good shake – the shark is optional.

Huge thanks to V.M. Giambanco for stopping by the CTG blog today and talking to us about how she has learnt from the masters.

The third book in her Alice Madison series – BLOOD AND BONE – is out now. Here’s the blurb: “After two years in the Seattle Police Department, Detective Alice Madison has finally found the kind of personal and professional peace she has never known before.

When a local burglary escalates into a horrific murder, Madison is put in charge of the investigation. She finds herself tracking a killer who may have haunted the city for years – and whose brutality is the stuff of myth in high security prisons.

As she delves deeper into the case, Madison learns that the widow of one of the victims is being stalked – is the killer poised to strike again? But then her own past comes under scrutiny from enemies close to home, and Madison’s position on the force – and the fate of the case itself – are suddenly thrown in jeopardy.”

To find out more about V.M. Giambanco and her books hop over to her website at www.vmgiambanco.com and follow her on Twitter @vm_giambanco 

And you can buy BLOOD AND BONE from Amazon by following this link

Killing Eva cover

Today I’m hosting a stop on Alex Blackmore’s KILLING EVA blog tour and have a real treat in store for you … an extract from the first chapter of KILLING EVA. 

First, here’s the blurb: “Witnessing a dramatic death at London’s Waterloo Station triggers a series of events that shatter Eva Scott’s world. Dying words uttered on the station concourse awaken a history she had thought long buried. But the past is about to be resurrected, in all its brutal reality.

Soon, Eva’s life is out of her hands. A genetic key is keeping her alive; but foreshadowing her death. People she loved and lost materialise and then disappear, testing the limits of her sanity. Inextricably linked to her survival is the potential takedown of an economic power, on which hang the lives of many others.

The only way out is through. But Eva’s life is no longer her own. And it’s killing her.”

And now, here’s the extract …


Eva drew back from the dying man. His breath was hot on her face, the grip he had on her wrist was tight, but she knew that he had just moments left.

Her heart was beating fast – too fast – and the adrenaline pumping through her body made her muscles burn.

There was now a large crowd of onlookers – it was Waterloo Station at rush hour – but no one else had stepped forward. People just stood and watched, texting or tweeting what was unfolding before their eyes, one eye on the departure boards. Don’t miss that train.

The man had collapsed only moments before. Almost in front of Eva as she ran from a tube train to a bus that would take her to the pub after an unforgiving day. For a split second she had almost swerved round him but the look in the man’s eyes – the terror – stopped her in her tracks.

‘Are you ok?’ she had said, breathlessly, as she tried not to stumble under the man’s weight. His eyes had rolled up towards the ceiling before settling on her once again as he tried to speak. His breath smelled of stale alcohol and he had the unmistakable odour of someone who had not been under a shower for weeks. But he was still alive. Just.

‘Are you ok?’ she had said, again, lowering the man to the cold, hard floor, requiring all her strength to prop up at least 180 pounds of bodyweight. Her muscles shook from the effort. No one helped. It was easy to see why the flock of commuters around her kept their distance. The man had string tied around his waist where the belt to his stained raincoat should be. His hat, now on the floor, was full of holes, and frayed at the brim.

Eva could see a sock through the toe of one of his shoes. Finally, she managed to gently lay him on the floor, took off her scarf and folded it, trying to make him a pillow. She heard mutterings in the crowd – ‘should we call the police?’ ‘tramps, I’m so sick of them’ ‘this problem is getting worse’ – and she saw a flicker of what looked like shame cross the man’s face. He looked at her, eyes suddenly lucid and clear.

‘Kolychak,’ he whispered firmly.

What was that – Russian? Czech?

‘I’m sorry I don’t understand.’

‘Kolychak,’ he said again. And then louder, but still whispered, ‘KOLYCHAK.’

He made a sudden grab for the front of Eva’s coat and pulled her face next to his.

‘Ko-ly-chak,’ he said fervently and tears started to fall from his eyes.

Somewhere in Eva’s mind, recognition flared. But she couldn’t reach it.

‘I don’t understand. Can you tell me who you are, what’s happened to you? We need to get you some help.’

Suddenly, the man let out an ear-piercing shriek that echoed around the station hall. Every person in the enormous space stopped; most turned to face the direction from which the unearthly sound had come.

Eva pulled herself away, stumbled, fell and then sat and stared at him in horror. The noise made her blood run completely cold. Then the man began to buck and writhe, as if someone was extracting his insides with a toasting fork. No one else moved. Liquid began to bubble and froth at his mouth. It had a bluish tinge. Abruptly, he stopped choking. His body became completely rigid, his eyes wide. Finally, he was still.

Eva heard her heartbeat thumping in her ears. She stared at the man on the floor. Reaching out a shaking hand, she felt his wrist for a pulse. Nothing.

‘Shit, is he ok?’ asked one of her fellow commuters. She looked at him for several seconds.

‘He’s dead.’

When she reached the pub – a ‘historic’ site just off High Holborn – she walked up to the ground floor bar and ordered a straight shot of brandy. She had barely reacted to the dying man at the time – the desire for flight had been too strong – but now she felt shaky and unsettled. Her friends, she knew, were in the bar upstairs in an area reserved for some birthday or other but she needed five minutes alone. Not that she would have it here. Even though it was only a Tuesday night, seething crowds had descended on the City and the man to her left appeared to be planning an imminent introduction. She turned away from him, looked out at the room around her and finished her drink. ‘Do you have a cigarette machine?’ she asked the barman.

‘No, love. There’s a supermarket round the corner though.’

By the time Eva returned to the pub, she was 20 minutes late for the party but still she didn’t go upstairs. She bought herself another brandy from the bar and leaned against the wall outside the building. She smoked three cigarettes in a row. After that, she felt pretty awful.

‘There you are! We thought you weren’t coming!’

Three of Eva’s friends tumbled out of the pub door, rosy cheeked from booze and laughing. Behind them came Sam, the man who had most recently shared Eva’s bed. She looked at him and he smiled. She smiled back but there was no stomach flip.

She made her excuses for being late but when she tried to tell the story of the man on the floor at Waterloo words failed her. She tried again when Sam went to the bar but she couldn’t. Ok, she reasoned eventually, why ruin their night with something she wanted to forget anyway. Sam returned with the drinks and then was at her side. He took her hand. She freed it to light a cigarette.

‘You’re smoking?’ He raised his light eyebrows towards a shock of blond hair.

She nodded and smiled. ‘Bad day.’

He gave her a hug. ‘Go on, give me one too then,’ he whispered in her ear.

She pulled back and then handed over the slim white cigarette and watched him try not to smoke it like a non-smoker.

Conversations in the group continued as one, and then two, more cigarettes were smoked to avoid a return to the cold for an hour at least. Then, the others drifted back inside. Sam pulled at her hand but she remained planted against the wall.

‘Are you ok?’

He came and stood opposite her, put his arms around her waist and stepped forward so that their faces were close.

‘I’m fine.’ She could feel that she was rigid in his arms. You’re still adjusting to being in a relationship, she told herself. It’s not him, it’s you.

He kissed her. ‘See you upstairs,’ he said and walked back into the pub smiling at her over his shoulder, attracting admiring glances as he went.

Eva turned the other way and leaned sideways against the wall. Her head hurt.

The word the man at the station had uttered was circling round and round her mind: kolychak-kolychak-kolychak. It was maddening.

She didn’t understand, she had never even seen him before. But she couldn’t forget what he had said – the incident had shaken her more deeply than it should.

She felt her phone vibrate in her bag and, grateful for the distraction from her thoughts, dug it out.

The display showed two words, starkly white against the blood red background she had chosen as a screensaver:

‘Jackson Calling.’

When she arrived at her flat that night, Eva double locked her front door and drew the chain across – something she never really did, despite living in one of the more ‘up and coming’ neighbourhoods of London.

Once inside, she stood with her back to the door and took several deep breaths.

As soon as she had seen that name on the display of her phone, Eva had started to run. She wasn’t sure where the instinct came from but she hadn’t even picked up the call. In fact, she had dropped her phone and had to rush after it as it skittered towards the edge of the kurb. A bus pulling up at a stop she hadn’t noticed was forced to skid to a halt, the driver sounding the horn angrily. She had been shocked, unaware of the peril so close, and had snatched her phone from the gutter and continued to run.

After that, a bus opposite Holborn station transported her to Camden, where she decided to walk home. On the way, a supermarket stop: a bottle of wine, another packet of cigarettes – a tin of tomato soup as an afterthought.

She’d made the journey home on autopilot. In her head the words ‘kolychak’ and ‘Jackson’ revolved mercilessly.

Jackson was her brother – her dead brother.


Alex Blackmore’s KILLING EVA is out now from No Exit Press.

You can find out more about Alex Blackmore by hopping over to her website at  www.alexblackmore.comand following her on Twitter @AlexPBlackmore

To buy the book from Amazon follow this link

And don’t forget to check out all the other fantastic stops on the KILLING EVA blog tour …

Alex Blackmore blog tour banner-2


What the blurb says: “One Fugitive. A deadly conspiracy. No rules. A security van sets off for Durham prison, a disgraced Special Branch officer in the back. It never arrives. En route it is hijacked by armed men, the prisoner sprung. Suspended from duty on suspicion of aiding and abetting the audacious escape of his former boss, Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan is locked out of the manhunt. Desperate to preserve his career and prove his innocence, he backs off. But when the official investigation falls apart, under surveillance and with his life in danger, Ryan goes dark, enlisting others in his quest to discover the truth. When the trail leads to the suspicious death of a Norwegian national, Ryan uncovers an international conspiracy that has claimed the lives of many.”

This fast paced, gritty thriller grabbed me immediately with its dramatic opening scenes of a prison van hijack. And the tension doesn’t let up. With questions unanswered about disgraced Special Branch officer Jack Fenwick’s involvement in criminal activity, and many assuming him guilty, as the hours pass after the hijack DS Matthew Ryan is convinced that the Professional Standards department are wrong to treat the hijack as an escape rather than an abduction – but no one is listening to him.

With Ryan is on suspension for much of the book he is forced to conduct his own investigation off the radar using only sources he can be sure are trustworthy. Determined to get to the truth, even if it means getting himself into more trouble and risking the career he loves, Ryan keeping digging, convinced that his commanding officer, and friend, Jack Fenwick, was framed. Meanwhile, talented investigator Eloise O’Neil from Professional Standards is keeping tabs on him as her and her team hunt for Jack Fenwick, adding an extra layer of complication for Ryan to keep his own investigation secret.

There is a great cast of characters in this book and I was quickly drawn into their world through the narrative. DS Matthew Ryan is a highly compelling character – he’s determined, driven and, as events take a tragic twist, uses his moment of vulnerability and personal grief as fuel to continue his investigation. The combination of Ryan and O’Neil, both looking for answers but coming from different sides of the investigative coin, makes for a great dynamic and the scenes they share have a real zing of electricity.

Gritty, authentic and utterly engrossing, The Silent Room is a real seat-of-your-pants read from the dramatic opening through to the explosive ending. A must for all thriller and police procedural fans.

To find out more about Mari Hannah and her books hop over to her website here and follow her on Twitter @mariwriter

You can buy the book from Amazon via this link 



What the blurb says: “He is darkness. She wants him dead. In a city starved of light, she might just succeed. She moves like a shadow; she kills silently: Raven.

This elegant assassin has been on the run for years. This time though, she has picked the wrong target. The hitman known only as ‘Victor’ is as paranoid as he is merciless, and is no stranger to being hunted. He tracks his would-be killer across the globe, aiming not only to neutralise the threat, but to discover who wants him dead. The trail leads to New York … And then the lights go out.

Over twelve hours of unremitting darkness, Manhattan dissolves into chaos. Amid looting, conspiracy and blackout, Victor and Raven play a vicious game of cat and mouse that the city will never forget.”

This series is really going from strength to strength.

Victor the assassin is a truly fascinating antihero. He’s cold, ruthless and brutal without remorse, but with it rather personable and engaging, which means that although he has no (few) morals, and a highly clinical approach to life, he is a character that I couldn’t help but want to spend time with.

In the latest book in the series – The Darkest Day – Victor finds himself the target of a talented female assassin with a flawless kill record. Rather than going into hiding after escaping her first attempt on his life, Victor vows to eliminate her as a threat. Alternately threatening or charming information from Raven’s associates, Victor discovers her background and tracks her to a safe house in New York. The clues stack up, and he has everything planned in perfect detail to neutralise her. Then the power goes out in New York City and everything he was so sure about starts to become hazy.

The pace is unrelenting, the danger ever escalating, and Victor is forced to abandon his usual preparations and safe-guards in order to keep out of his pursuers’ – both legal and criminal – way. It’s fascinating to see this character, who is always so in control, plunged into a sustained environment of chaos and having to react to a far more unpredictable set of circumstances than before. As the line between ally and enemy morphs and blurs, Victor has to rely on his own instincts and operating principles to navigate the danger. But as the true nature of the blackout and the shocking aim of the people behind it is revealed, Victor has to decide whether to get out while he can or try to avert the threat being made real within the City.

Action packed, adrenaline fuelled, thriller writing at its best – THE DARKEST DAY is a must read for all crime thriller fans.


You can check out my interview with author Tom Wood here

Buy the book from Amazon by following this link

And find out more about Tom Wood and the Victor the Assassin series by hopping over to his website at www.tomwoodbooks.com and following him on Twitter @TheTomWood


[With thanks to Sphere for my copy of THE DARKEST DAY]


Today crime writer Tom Wood – creator of the Victor the Assassin thriller series – has dropped by the CTG blog to tell us all about his latest book THE DARKEST DAY which is published today by Sphere.

So, let’s get straight to the questions …

Your latest thriller – THE DARKEST DAY – featuring Victor the Assassin is out today. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The latest book sees Victor targeted by a rival assassin named Raven, who comes perilously close to succeeding in an attempt on his life. He doesn’t know why she came after him or who she is working for, but as Victor is a pragmatic soul he deems the best way to deal with the threat she poses is to kill her. His hunt takes him to New York City, where he slowly realises there are powerful forces at work and he’s put himself in even more danger by going after Raven.

Victor is a fascinating character – ruthlessly brutal, yet also rather charming – what was your inspiration for creating him?

I grew up preferring the bad guys to the good guys, so Victor was the inevitable protagonist I would end up writing about. He’s probably a coming together of multiple antiheroes from cinema and literature, but when I first wrote about him I just wanted to write about an assassin who wasn’t going to have a crisis of conscience whenever he killed someone. He then grew out of this concept—an antihero who wasn’t conflicted or troubled.

Like you, Victor practises the martial art Krav Maga – are there other similarities between the two of you?

I haven’t trained for a while after breaking a bone in my right hand, so I think we can safely say that Victor is a lot tougher than I am. I would like to think we’re very different—considering he’s a professional murderer—but I suppose we do have similarities. We both pay a lot of attention to our surroundings; we both notice things that maybe other people don’t. But he does so because he’s in constant peril, whereas I tend to do so out of boredom. Also, we both agree that littering is unforgiveable.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you take a Victor-esq approach and plot everything out in advance, or do you dive right in and see where the story takes you?

About half and half on average. I think you have to have some planning for a plot to work. I think you can always spot a book that hasn’t had any planning because the ending is a big letdown—the writer writes themselves into a corner. I always start with some overall idea—Victor on the run; Victor undercover; Victor as a bodyguard etc—but the approach is different each time. When writing a series I think the key is for each book to be ‘the same, but different’, which is one of those classic Hollywood-esque oxymoron, but has a little merit. I want every story to be different from the last whilst retaining characteristic of the series and staying faithful to the character. No one wants to read about a week in Victor’s life where nothing happens, for example. One of the ways I attempt this is to vary how much I plot and plan from book to book, so if the writing process is different and interesting for me in each time out then hopefully that will translate into the reading experience.

Tom Wood (c) Charlie Hopkinson

Tom Wood (c) Charlie Hopkinson

I know that I mustn’t give away the ending – OMG that ending!! (it’s a corker of a twist) – but had you always planned for that to happen or did it happen organically?

I wrote the final scene long before the book was finished, but I hadn’t planned it in advance—it just fell onto the page nicely because I understood the characters so well. Even though I didn’t know exactly the route the story would take to reach that finale, I knew it was the right ending. I can’t really say anything further about it without spoilers, so I’ll say that it almost didn’t make it into the book because weeks and weeks after writing it the file became corrupted on a cloud storage—thanks Microsoft!—and the scene was lost. I was suitably enraged, but also terrified of rewriting it from memory and the scene losing out as a result. Mercifully, I managed to rewrite it without too much trouble, but I argued a little with my editor about how it should play out. He would have preferred it to be more ambiguous, but I disagreed. Several of my books have story threads that are not fully wrapped up as it often seems too contrived otherwise, but also a cliffhanger ending feels disrespectful to the reader.

Can you tell us what’s next for Victor – is there another series book planned and, if so, what details can you reveal?

I’ve just delivered the sixth book, titled A Time to Die, which sees Victor hired by MI6 to kill a ruthless Serbian war criminal who has been in hiding after escaping justice years before. It’s probably darker in tone than the past books, whilst staying faithful to the series as a whole—classically the same, but different. Normally, after delivering a book, I hate it and think it’s terrible after spending months and months thinking about nothing else, but I’m very excited about this one as the story came together easier than it ever has before.

And, finally, looking forward to next year, what does 2016 have in store for you?

A Time to Die will be out in April, so the first couple of months of 2016 will be spent frantically editing and polishing. Then I’ll no doubt begin work on my seventh book, whatever that proves to be.


A big thank you to Tom Wood for dropping by and telling us all about his latest (brilliant) thriller – THE DARKEST DAY. To find out more about Tom hop on over to his website at www.tomwoodbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @TheTomWood

You can buy THE DARKEST DAY from Amazon by following this link

And be sure to pop back here next week to read my review!


Hidden pb

To celebrate Emma Kavanagh’s Hidden being published in paperback today, I’m re-blogging my review from earlier this year. Enjoy …

Here’s what the blurb says: “He’s watching. A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He’s unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently. Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarty is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman – before it’s too late.

She’s waiting. To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety – both for her, and her young niece who’s been recently admitted. She’s heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?

As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman’s next target will be. But he’s there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks.”

I loved Emma Kavanagh’s debut – Falling – and so I was delighted to get an early copy of her second book – Hidden.

The book opens amongst the horrific aftermath of a shooting in a hospital. Told in first person, the terrifying situation and urgent, compelling voice of Charlie pulled me into the story from the first page. After the first chapter, the story takes you back in time, and through multiple characters’ perspectives, exposes the chain of events in the preceding days that have led to the tragedy.

I think this is the first book I’ve read where the main police character is a Police Firearms Officer rather than a detective. This fresh angle really makes the story stand out, as does the rest of the brilliantly drawn characters and the complex relationships (and hidden secrets) they have with each other. As the story progressed, I found the relationship between hospital-based Psychologist, Imogen, and her twin sister, Mara; and that of local journalist Charlie with Aden, the Firearms Officer, especially intriguing (but I won’t say why – you need to read the book to find out!).

It’s hard to go into detail about this book without giving away spoilers, but what I can say is that it’s a story that keeps you on your toes as a reader. I love books that keep me guessing and challenge me to work out who is responsible, and this story did just that. With several crimes taking place, multiple narrators giving glimpses into different elements of the story, and a super pacey non-linear timeline, the author cleverly ramps up the suspense and the mystery, and kept me guessing right to the end.

This is a gritty, tense, twisty page-turner of a book – and a must read for crime and thriller fans.

Highly recommended.


You can follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaLK and hop over to Amazon here to buy the book.

Exciting news – Harvill Secker have partnered up with Book Week Scotland to bring the Urban Noir Showcase tour to Scotland with crime writers Arne Dahl, Eva Dolan and Stuart Neville appearing at a number of events from 23 – 25 November 2015.

These three fabulous authors will discuss the contemporary anxieties they explore in their works of urban crime fiction, share their inspirations, reveal their writing secrets and answer questions from the audience.

Here’s the details …