CTG Interviews: Daniel Pembrey author of Harbour Master II: The Maze


Author Daniel Pembrey

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Daniel Pembrey to the CTG blog. Hot on the release of his latest novella, Daniel kindly agreed to allow us to grill him about his writerly habits …

So, Daniel, your latest novella/Kindle Single – Harbour Master II: The Maze – is out now. Can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s the second novella in a Dutch detective series (you don’t need to have read the first). Protagonist Henk van der Pol, a maverick Amsterdam cop, confronts a maze-like set of cases involving diamonds, fine art, drugs and high-class prostitution. As his investigations gather pace, he has to fend off powerful, vested interests while unravelling the connections between the crimes.

The Maze is one of the first crime books I’ve read set in Holland, what was it that inspired you to write a series about a Dutch detective?

I have a close sister living in Amsterdam so I’d visit often and struggle to find good crime fiction set there, which surprised me. I felt that Amsterdam lent itself as well to the genre as the neighbouring Scandinavian capitals, where of course crime fiction is huge! So finally I decided to write some …

Your novellas have a really strong sense of place, how do you go about researching them?

Thank you! I lived in the docklands area of Amsterdam for three months to capture the voice of the main character and his physical world. I spent a lot of time in bars and cafes listening to locals and watching how they interacted. It wasn’t all bad, but getting up at dawn on wintery mornings to peruse the harbour (as my central character does) took some getting used to!

What attracted you to writing crime fiction?

I read social history at university and I find that crime fiction is a fascinating way to explore themes in society. All crime results from some failure in relationships. Plus, it has a pace and a structure that makes for a very satisfying read, when done well.

How would you describe your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

I try to have a hypothetical ending in mind and then let the characters come alive. Novellas do need to be well-structured because there’s so little space, so I carefully keep track of things going on at the sub-plot level, and it’s important of course to try to provide that satisfying yet inevitable ending!

The Maze cover image

The Maze cover image

What advice would you give to new writers aspiring to publication?

I think it’s important to write on a regular basis, if only for a small amount of time each day. Writing ability is like a muscle, I feel; they more you use it, the more it can do. With fiction especially, it’s important to write about what inspires you and what you like to read. I also feel that a certain fearless honestly is a hallmark of much great writing, so it can help to write while imagining that no one will ever read it!

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

I’m working hard on the third book in the Harbour Master series, which comes out on December 5th. It’s about a high-profile kidnapping that has parallels with the 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken. We’re all potentially hostage to certain things, psychologically. Then I hope to bring out a collected edition of the first three books in print and e-book formats.

For updates on those releases and my other books (including an exciting film adaption project), please sign up at http://www.danielpembrey.com to receive my monthly author newsletter.

Also, I’ll be speaking on a panel at Bouchercon in Long Beach on November 15th; if anyone happens to be in the Los Angeles area, it would be great to see you!

Thank you so much for having me.

Our pleasure!

Make sure to hop on over to Daniel’s website to get all the info on his books and, if you’re in Long Beach next month, be sure to go and say hi at Bouchercon.

Blog Tour: The Dying Place by Luca Veste

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


Blog Tour Banner

Blog Tour Banner


CTG Reviews: The Maze by Daniel Pembrey

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]

Brand-new Independent publisher Orenda Books announces first titles


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


CTG Interviews: Helen Giltrow author of The Distance

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