What happened at the brilliant #BloodyScotland Crime Writing Festival 2015 (Part 1)

Whose Crime Is It Anyway? (c) Eoin Carey

Whose Crime Is It Anyway? (c) Eoin Carey

The Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival is one of those festivals that goes from strength to strength. This year the organising team, led by the ever sparky Dom Hastings, put on a fabulous programme of events from panels to interviews, an awards dinner, a pub cabaret, and a football match – there really was something for everyone. In fact, it was so good it’s taken me a week to recover enough to blog about it!

The weekend kicked off with Val McDermid and Peter May in conversation, followed by Whose Crime is it Anyway? – with TV presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli throwing out the challenges to crime writers Christopher Brookmyre, Kevin Wignall and Caro Ramsay to improvise on the spot. Once the opening events finished, as ever at crime writing festivals, the rest of the evening was spent in the bar at the Stirling Highland Hotel with a glass of wine (or two, or three …).

Scotland v England

Scotland v England

On Saturday, I wasn’t able to get to many events as I was in training for a special performance with The Slice Girls at the Crime in the Coo event later that evening. But I heard great things about the Killer Women panel – Louise Millar, Helen Giltrow, and MJ McGrath – who discussed whether the Woman is deadlier than the Male? The thought provoking Self Publishing session with Alexandra Sokoloff and Allan Guthrie, and the New Crimes panel with debut authors Lucy Ribchester (The Hourglass Factory), Chris Dolan (Potter’s Field), SJI Holliday (Black Wood) and Mark Legatt (Names of the Dead) – which all sound like fabulous reads.

In the afternoon, in a brief pause between practices, I did get along to the Breaking the Law panel which had dynamic law buffs Steve Cavanagh, Neil White and Jeffrey Siger, along with Craig Sisterson, talking about the difference between the law in crime thrillers and crime fact, how they draw on their real life experiences in their writing, and the legal thrillers that they especially admire. After that, it was a quick sprint to get ready for the Crime in the Coo before meeting my fellow Slice Girls for one final practice (more about that on the blog tomorrow!)

(c) Eoin Carey

(c) Eoin Carey

After a late, late night on Saturday, my start on Sunday wasn’t especially early! The first event I got along to was the Thriller panel with Simon Kernick, Tom Wood, G.J. Brown and Mason Cross. In a lively debate they talked locations – whether to visit them or not, and the perils if you don’t, the fun of writing “lone wolf” characters, and about their routes to publication (the key, so they say, is not to let rejection stop you).

Then, with the sky getting darker by the minute, it was a short walk up the hill to the bowling green at Cowane’s Hospital where the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers Football Match: Scotland v England was happening. After Scotland’s convincing win last year there was a lot at stake, and as the game kicked off both teams looked very determined. In a tense game, where the players had to contend with alternating sunshine and pouring rain, the two sides looked pretty evenly matched with goal keepers Luca Veste (England) and Craig Robertson (Scotland) kept busy as both sides battled it out to win.

(c) Eoin Carey

(c) Eoin Carey

At the end of the match, the score was 5-5.

The Scotland goals came from Mark Stanton, Christopher Brookmyre, and Doug Johnstone (3). For England the scorers were Vincent Holland-Keane (2), Col Bury (2) and Howard Linskey. The team captains – Ian Rankin (Scotland) and Simon Kernick (England) held the trophy aloft and then, as the rain got heavier, it was time to trot back down the hill (to the bar!).

The final event of the festival was Literary Agent, Jenny Brown, interviewing bestselling crime thriller writer, Linwood Barclay, who was on his first visit to Scotland. To a packed audience, Linwood talked about his writing career, his latest book Broken Promise – the first of a sequence of three connected stories – and on creating a story with a killer hook. Very interesting and highly entertaining, this was the perfect session to end the festival with. Then it was back to the bar, for one final night, before setting off home the next morning.

Jenny Brown interviewing Linwood Barclay (c) Eoin Carey

Jenny Brown interviewing Linwood Barclay (c) Eoin Carey

Next year the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival runs from 9 – 11 September 2016. If you love crime fiction then you absolutely need to be there – put the dates in your diary and book a hotel, now! Trust me, this is one festival that you won’t want to miss out on.

But, of course, there’s something that I haven’t told you about in this blog post – just what happened at Crime in the Coo on Saturday night.

If you want to know, pop back tomorrow for my “(Not so) Secret Diary of a Slice Girl post. 

In the meantime, here’s a sneaky peep …

The Slice Girls on the bar at The Curly Coo (c) Eoin Carey

The Slice Girls on the bar at The Curly Coo (c) Eoin Carey

Confessions from the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate: Part 1

Going to the crime festival at Harrogate is a bit like entering another world – a world populated entirely by crime writers and crime readers. A perfect place for a crime fiction addict like me to hang out!

The Irish Noir panel

The Irish Noir panel

So I arrived on Thursday afternoon in time for the opening party (of course!) and the announcement of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. This year the highly coveted barrel trophy was won by the fabulous Sarah Hilary for her brilliant novel Someone Else’s Skin. [FYI: the partying went on well into the night/morning]

On Friday I managed to make it to breakfast (just before the food was cleared away) and after a few strong coffees was ready to skip along to the Irish Noir panel. This lively event, with Steve Cavanagh, Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway, Eoin McNamee and Adrian McKinty, saw the authors discussing why they’d chosen to set their books where they had (in Ireland or not, and in the far past, recent past or present), what their writing influences had been, how the troubles had shaped them as writers, the challenges of research – including the danger of being sucked down the rabbit hole by Google and Wikipedia – and many other topics.

Killer Women

Killer Women

Then it was time for lunch and drinks on the lawn where I caught up with some of the wonderful Killer Women (pictured) Anya Lipska, Helen Giltrow, Louise Voss, and Helen Smith.

Then it was time for the Yorkshire Pride panel with moderator Nick Quantrill posing the questions to Lee Child, Steve Mosby, Frances Brody and Peter Robinson around the central topic of Yorkshire. Lee Child spoke of his fond memories buying sweets with his grandma in Harrogate, Steve Mosby spoke of creating a Leeds-like place to set his novels in, and Peter Robinson and Frances Brody spoke about the Yorkshire settings – both present and past – of their novels.

As soon as the panel ended it was a quick sprint along the corridor to the Dead Good Reader Awards – luckily not arriving too late for one of the special ‘The Widow’ themed cocktails (pictured) of blood orange and bubbly!

'The Widow' cocktails

‘The Widow’ cocktails

From the thousands of votes, the winners of the first ever Dead Good Reader Awards were announced as …

  • The Dead Good Recommends Award for Most Recommended Book: The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
  • The Lee Child Award for Best Loner or Detective: Vera Stanhope (Ann Cleeves)
  • The Val McDermid Award for Fiendish Forensics: Time of Death (Mark Billingham)
  • The Reichenbach Falls Award for Most Epic Ending: The Skeleton Road (Val McDermid)
  • The Dr Lecter Award for Scariest Villain: You are Dead (Peter James)
  • The Patricia Highsmith Award for Most Exotic Location: Amsterdam – The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die (Marnie Riches)
Award winner Marnie Riches with her agent

Award winner Marnie Riches with her agent

And there was still much to come. The next event was Mark Billingham in conversation with Eddie Izzard. This session, to a packed out audience, was one of the major highlights of the festival. With great banter, packed full of anecdotes and laughs, they talked about some of the stranger venues they’d played on the comedy circuit, what it’s like to die on stage, how to deal with hecklers, through to the need to continuously challenge yourself, and how everyone can keep learning – even if they’re 90. The hour seemed to pass in a flash, and I for one could have continued to listen to them all night.

The final session of the day (starting at 10pm) was The Black Art of Criticism panel with moderator N.J. Cooper posing the questions to panellists Jake Kerridge (the Telegraph’s book reviewer), and authors S.J. Parris, Stav Sherez and Ann Widdecombe. It was a playful panel who debated how they approached reviewing, and how they took being reviewed, with plenty of entertaining discussion.

IMG_1899

The Black Art of Criticism panel

And so, at 11pm as the events of the day drew to a close, I headed to the bar – where I stayed until the early hours of the next morning.

To be continued …

Crime In The Court Crime @GoldsboroBooks 2015 – What a great night! #IBW2015

David Headley opens Crime in the Court

David Headley opens Crime in the Court

Fabulous independent bookstore Goldsboro Books in London held their hugely popular Crime in the Crime evening last night. I’ve heard loads of great things about the event before, but yesterday was my first time going along to one.

It was a wonderful evening. With over 70 crime writers in attendance and around 400 people filling the gorgeous bookstore and all the outside space in shop-lined Cecil Court (luckily a pedestrians only street!) it was a friendly, fun and swelteringly hot London night out.

David Headley – Goldsboro owner and literary agent – was the perfect host. With free drinks and the shop’s beautiful shelves to browse, plus lots of laughter and the perfect opportunity to catch up with crime writers and readers – it was a crime fiction addict’s heaven!

Attending authors included: Rebecca Whitney, Elizabeth Haynes, Terry Stiastny, Susan Wilkins, Clare Mackintosh, Antonia Hodgson, Louise Millar, Christobel Kent, Kate Rhodes, RC Bridgestock, Charles Cumming, SD Sykes, William Shaw, V.M.Giambanco, Ali Knight, Elly Griffiths, L.C.Tyler, Dreda Say Mitchell & Tony Mason, Elena Forbes, Julia Crouch, Mick Herron, Colette McBeth, T.R.Richmond, Vaseem Khan, Jenny Blackhurst, Robin Blake, Sabine Durrant, JS Law, Clare Carson, Erin Kelly, Jane Lythell, Stuart Prebble, Simon Toyne, Anya Lipska, Fergus McNeill, SJI Holliday, Helen Giltrow, Claire McGowan, Eva Dolan, Mark Billingham, SJ Watson, Sharon Bolton, Renee Knight, David Hewson, Emma Kavanagh, Sarah Hilary, Alison Joseph, Cal Moriaty, Saul Black, Diana Bretherick, Rod Reynolds and Mark Hill.

crime writers Helen Giltrow, Rod Reynolds & Mark Hill

crime writers Helen Giltrow, Rod Reynolds, Mark Hill (with a copy of Rod’s debut The Dark Inside – out in September)

Definitely an event I’ll put in my calendar again for next year!

In the meantime, be sure to visit Goldsboro Books at Cecil Court, London (just a minute walk from Leicester Square tube) or hop on over to their website at www.goldsborobooks.com

Events Alert: BritCrime 2015 – a free online crime fiction festival on 11-13 July!

BritCrime Festival logo

BritCrime organiser and author, Helen Smith

BritCrime organiser and author, Helen Smith

BritCrime 2015 is a brand new sparkly crime fiction festival that will run for the first time from 11 – 13 July 2015. Instigated by author Helen Smith, the festival will feature more than forty crime authors taking part over the three-day festival.

The free festival – yes, that’s right – FREE – will take place entirely online. There’ll be live Q&A panel discussions on the BritCrime Facebook page as well as ‘Meet us in the (virtual) Bar’ sessions for late night chat and japes.

In the run up to the festival there’ll be lots of exciting things going on – giveaways, video sessions and interactive Google Hangouts. You can also sign up to get the festival email updates – and be entered into the draw to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

Participating authors include Quentin Bates, Jenny Blackhurst, Rebecca Bradley, Graeme Cameron, Steve Cavanagh, Tammy Cohen, Mason Cross, Julia Crouch, Eva Dolan, Steven Dunne, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Paul Finch, Helen Giltrow, Sarah Hilary, Susi Holliday, Jane Isaac, Amanda Jennings, Emma Kavanagh, Anya Lipska, Colette McBeth, M J McGrath, Fergus McNeill, Clare Mackintosh, Michael J Malone, Ava Marsh, Alex Marwood, K T Medina, Daniel Pembrey, J F Penn, Nick Quantrill, Marnie Riches, Craig Robertson, Mel Sherratt, Alexandra Sokoloff, Helen Smith, C L Taylor, Simon Toyne, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Sarah Ward – that’s A LOT of authors!!

Author, Mason Cross

Author, Mason Cross

And you can ask them anything! Want to know what sparked the idea for a book? – you can ask them; want to learn how to pick locks or how to turn your teenage diary into a murder story? – there’ll be tips for that too; wondering what it’s like to go from real life detective to crime fiction writer? – that’s something you can ask as well.

On Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th July the live Q&A sessions will run from midday to 10pm (UK time) with the ‘Meet us in the Bar’ sessions live after the panels from 10pm to midnight.

On Monday 13th July there’ll be highlights from the BritCrime Festival, a report from ThrillerFest (New York), BritCrime authors on tour: looking forward to Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and Bouchercon, and ‘What’s next for BritCrime? – more exciting stuff to come.’

Author, Eva Dolan

Author, Eva Dolan

So whether you love murder mysteries, police procedurals, private investigators, thrillers, romantic suspense or domestic noir (or all of them!) by getting online and involved, you’ll be able to take part in this fantastic new festival wherever you live – and FOR FREE!

So be sure to follow @BritCrime on Twitter, and then hop on over to the festival website at www.britcrime.com to find out more, register, and start thinking of all the questions you’d like to ask the authors …

See you at BritCrime!

The #KillerWomenLaunch: Criminally Good Writing

Killer Women logo

Killer Women logo

Last night I was thrilled to attend the launch event for the fabulous new Killer Women group. Held at the lovely Collyer Bristow Gallery, with a plentiful supply of gorgeously yummy wine from Naked Wines, it was a brilliant evening.

Set up by Melanie McGrath and Louise Millar, Killer Women is a group of fifteen established female crime writers: Jane Casey, Tammy Cohen, Helen Giltrow, Paula Hawkins, Alison Joseph, Erin Kelly, Anya Lipska, Colette McBeth, Melanie McGrath, Kate Medina, Louise Millar, Kate Rhodes, Helen Smith, Louise Voss, and Laura Wilson.

Between them they write in many sub-genres of crime writing from psychological thrillers to procedurals, to political thrillers and more – just look at the fantastic range of books on display last night (pictured). And as a group they’re looking to connect with readers through a range of fabulous sounding activities from talks at festivals to events at libraries and bookshops, to debates around women and violence, interviews with crime writers and criminal justice experts, and much more.

books by the Killer Women

books by the Killer Women

It sounds like a great idea to me, and I can’t wait to see the Killer Women in action at their next event.

To find out more about Killer Women and their upcoming events, talks, debates, workshops and giveaways hop on over to their website at www.killerwomen.org and follow them on Twitter @killerwomenorg

 

 

Your Chance to WIN: Crime Thriller book bundle from Orion Books #bookgiveaway

To celebrate THE DISTANCE by Helen Giltrow coming out in paperback today, those lovely people at Orion have given me three five-book bundles of fantastic crime thrillers to giveaway to three lucky winners.

The Prize:

Each bundle includes the following wonderful books …

The Distance by Helen Giltrow

Missing You by Harlan Coben

Hell’s Gate by Richard Crompton

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham

Touching Distance by Graham Hurley

It’s a fantastic prize with five great books. To wet your appetite, here’s a bit more info about each of them …

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

The Distance by Helen Giltrow

What the blurb says: They don’t call her Karla anymore. She’s Charlotte Alton: she doesn’t trade in secrets, she doesn’t erase dark pasts, and she doesn’t break hit-men into prison. Except that is exactly what she’s been asked to do. The job is impossible: get the assassin into an experimental new prison so that he can take out a target who isn’t officially there. It’s a suicide mission, and quite probably a set-up. So why can’t she say no?”

This breath-taking thriller from Debut Dagger shortlisted author Helen Giltrow is described by bestselling author Lee Child as “Fast, hard and very, very good.”

You can check out my review of The Distance here: https://crimethrillergirl.com/2015/02/25/ctg-reviews-the-distance-by-helen-giltrow-2/ 

 

 

Missing You by Harlan Coben

Missing You cover image

Missing You cover image

What the blurb says: It’s a profile, like all the others on the online dating site. But as NYPD Detective Kat Donovan focuses on the accompanying picture, she feels her whole world explode, as emotions she’s ignored for decades come crashing down on her. Staring back at her is her ex-fiancé Jeff, the man who shattered her heart 18 years ago. Kat feels a spark, wondering if this might be the moment when past tragedies recede and a new world opens up to her. But when she reaches out to the man in the profile, her reawakened hope quickly darkens into suspicion and then terror as an unspeakable conspiracy comes to light, in which monsters prey upon the most vulnerable. As Kat’s hope for a second chance with Jeff grows more and more elusive, she is consumed by an investigation that challenges her feelings about everyone she ever loved – her former fiancé, her mother, and even her father, whose cruel murder so long ago has never been fully explained. With lives on the line, including her own, Kat must venture deeper into the darkness than she ever has before, and discover if she has the strength to survive what she finds there.”

Harlan Coben is an international No.1 bestselling thriller author and a winner of the EDGAR, SHAMUS and ANTHONY AWARDs. His books are published in over 40 languages, with more than 47 million copies in print worldwide.

 

Hell’s Gate by Richard Crompton

Hell's Gate cover image

Hell’s Gate cover image

What the blurb says: When Mollel, a former Maasai warrior turned detective, ends up in a small, fly-blown town on the edge of a national park, it looks as if his career has taken a nose-dive. His colleagues are a close-knit group and they have not taken kindly to a stranger in their midst. Mollel suspects they are guilty of the extortion and bribery that plague the force, but when the body of a flower worker turns up in the local lake, he wonders if they might be involved in something more disturbing… For all is not as it seems in Hell’s Gate. Amid rumours of a local death squad, disappearances and blackmail, Mollel is forced not only to confront his Maasai heritage, but also to ask himself where justice truly lies. In upholding the law, is he doing what is right?”

Richard Crompton lives in Nairobi. Hell’s Gate has been described by bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin as “A compulsive whodunnit set in Kenya”.

 

 

 

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham

cover image

cover image

What the blurb says: “When DC Fiona Griffiths says ‘yes’ to her policeman boyfriend, it’s an affirmation that she wants finally to put her psychological breakdown behind her, and become a resident of ‘Planet Normal’ like everybody else. But she still can’t resist the challenge of an undercover policing course, and finding it remarkably easy to assume a new identity, she comes top of the class. So when an ingenious payroll fraud starts to look like the tip of a huge criminal iceberg, Fiona is selected to infiltrate the fraudsters’ operation, posing as a meek former payroll clerk now forced to work as a cleaner. But as she penetrates deeper into their operation, coming closer to identifying the mastermind behind it, she faces another, even more frightening danger – that her always fragile grip on her sense of self has now been lost and she may never find her way back.”

You can check out my review of The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths here: https://crimethrillergirl.com/2014/03/11/ctg-reviews-the-strange-death-of-fiona-griffiths-by-harry-bingham/ 

 

 

Touching Distance by Graham Hurley

cover image

cover image

What the blurb says: “DS Jimmy Suttle is trying to get his life back on track. His marriage has fallen apart and he rarely sees his young daughter, Grace. But then a murder shuts the door on the chaos of his personal life… The victim was shot through the head at the wheel of his car on a lonely moorland road. The only witness? His two-year-old son, strapped into the rear child seat. Within days, two more killings, equally professional, equally without motive. Meanwhile, Suttle’s estranged wife is embarking on an investigation of her own in the world of journalism. But the story brings her to the question at the very heart of Jimmy’s case – what does it take to make a man kill?”

Graham Hurley has twice been shortlisted for the THEAKSTON’S OLD PECULIER CRIME NOVEL OF THE YEAR AWARD, and has been praised as one of the INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY’s five best UK crime writers.

 

 *** THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED ***

So, to the competition …

For a chance to win a five-book bundle all you need to do is tweet the link to this post (using the Twitter button below) OR retweet one of the CTG tweets about the giveaway. [You’ll also need to follow us on Twitter, so that we can send you a direct message should you win].

Rules
 (1) One entry per reader (2) UK residents only – due to postage costs – sorry! (3) We will draw the winners at random (4) No cash alternative (5) The competition closes for entries at 9pm GMT on Wednesday 4th March 2015 (6) The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Good luck!

CTG Reviews: The Distance by Helen Giltrow

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

To celebrate the paperback release (this week) of Helen Giltrow’s fabulous debut thriller – THE DISTANCE – I’m re-running my review of this brilliant book ...

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?”

This is a stylish, espionage-type thriller with a bold and courageous female lead character. Karla (and her alter-ego Charlotte Alton) is super-smart, brave and principled (in her own very distinct way). She is the best of the best at helping people who want to disappear, and is herself a master of disguise.

But this job is different. To get a hit-man into ‘The Programme’ – an experimental prison that is meant to be impossible to break in or out of, and the hit-man is Johanssen – a guy she has a history with.

Karla takes the job, but as Johanssen assumes a new identity in order to enter The Programme, Karla gets increasingly suspicious of the client and their motives. The target of the hit is a woman, and the only information they have on her is a photo and an assurance that she did ‘something bad’. Yet she seemingly has no identity, no history, and there is no record of her being inside the prison. Still, Karla has seen the CCTV footage – she knows that the target is inside and very much exists.

Concerned for Johanssen’s safety, Karla digs deeper to find the identity of the target and, in doing so, unravels the complex web of lies, bribes and murder. As she gets closer to uncovering the violent truth hidden behind the hit, Karla, and those close to her, become targets.

Set in the near future and played out over twenty-four days, the story is packed with tension. It’s told in the present tense, which adds to the momentum, and hammers along at a tremendous pace. The plot twists and turns, then twists some more and turns again, ramping up the suspense page by page. A great read, it had me hooked from the first page to the last.

Dark, edgy and, at times, brutal, this is a stylish and highly original debut.

Highly recommended.

 

[I bought my copy of The Distance]

CTG’s Top Reads of 2014

There have been so many wonderful books published this year it’s been really hard to narrow it down to my most favourite. So, instead of my top five picks, this year I’ve made it my top nine (!).

Here they are, my top picks of 2014 …

Truth or Dare cover image

Truth or Dare cover image

TRUTH OR DARE by Tania Carver (Sphere)

Tania Carver is fast becoming one of my favorite 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.

TRUTH OR DARE 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.

What I especially admired in this book is the skillful 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.

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

The Good Girl cover image

The Good Girl cover image

THE GOOD GIRL by Mary Kubica (Harlequin MIRA)

This spellbinding debut thriller uncovers just how many dark secrets can be hidden behind a perfect family image. Schoolteacher, Mia Dennett, turned her back on her family’s extravagant lifestyle to work as an inner-city teacher and make her own way in the world. But when her boyfriend stands her up one time too many, a spare-of-the-moment decision to go home with the smooth and attractive Colin has horrifying consequences for more than just Mia.

Told through three main viewpoints – the mother, Eve, the kidnapper, Colin, and the cop, Gabe – each character shows the reader a different perspective on the events, and on Mia, leading up to, during and following the kidnapping.

With the viewpoints and timeline told out-of-sequence, the story builds the tension to the max as the details of what happened to Mia are uncovered. It’s a complex tale of deceit, jealously, fear, and love played out against the bustling, bright lights of Chicago and the frozen, unforgiving landscape of rural Minnesota in winter.

I found this artfully crafted story brutal at times, and yet so beautiful that it made me cry (and I can’t remember the last time a story did that). A stunning debut.

The Bones Beneath cover image

The Bones Beneath cover image

THE BONES BENEATH by Mark Billingham (Sphere)

THE BONES BENEATH takes Tom Thorne away from his home turf, reluctantly chaperoning one of the most dangerous criminals from his past on a trip to Bardsey Island to retrieve the body of a teenager. Part road-trip, part closed location mystery, the suspense builds from the outset.

Stuart Nicklin is a master manipulator without a shred of remorse for his victims and their families, yet he says he’s willing to lead the police to the body of one of his early kills in order for the boy’s mother to get closure. The catch –Thorne must be the police officer to escort him. But Thorne knows the trip isn’t about any sense of conscience Nicklin has, so why does he want to take a trip to the island now?

As Thorne and his team, along with prisoners Nicklin and Batchelor, make the journey there’s a real sense of impending doom.

The remote island makes the group geographically isolated. At the mercy of the weather, and limited by the small amount of equipment they could bring, the team start their search for the body. But finding it is only their first challenge.

The relationship between Thorne and Nicklin is grating and tense. Nicklin tries his upmost to taunt and provoke Thorne, while Thorne battles to keep his reactions in check. They’re well matched adversaries – smart, savvy and both determined to stop the other getting the upper hand. But as the full extent of Nicklin’s plan is put into play, the body count rises, and Thorne is forced to make an impossible choice.

This tense, suspenseful and claustrophobically gripping story hooked me in from the beginning and kept me reading into the early hours because I just couldn’t put the book down. A truly fabulous read.

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

THE DISTANCE by Helen Giltrow (Orion)

This is a stylish, espionage-type thriller with a bold and courageous female lead character. Karla (and her alter-ego Charlotte Alton) is super-smart, brave and principled (in her own very distinct way). But this job is different. To get a hit-man into ‘The Programme’ – an experimental prison that is meant to be impossible to break in or out of, and the hit-man is Johanssen – a guy she has a history with.

Karla takes the job, but as Johanssen assumes a new identity in order to enter The Programme, Karla gets increasingly suspicious of the client and their motives. The target of the hit is a woman, and the only information they have on her is a photo and an assurance that she did ‘something bad. Yet she seemingly has no identity, no history, and there is no record of her being inside the prison. Still, Karla has seen the CCTV footage – she knows that the target is inside and very much exists.

Concerned for Johanssen’s safety, Karla digs deeper to find the identity of the target and, in doing so, unravels the complex web of lies, bribes and murder. As she gets closer to uncovering the violent truth hidden behind the hit, Karla, and those close to her, become targets.

Set in the near future and played out over twenty-four days, the story is packed with tension. It’s told in the present tense, which adds to the momentum, and hammers along at a tremendous pace. The plot twists and turns, then twists some more and turns again. Dark, edgy and, at times, brutal, this is a stylish and highly original debut.

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

THE KILLING SEASON by Mason Cross (Orion)

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

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

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

I cannot sing this novel’s praises highly enough – it’s a joy to read, utterly engaging and kept me hooked right from the first page to the last. There’s high stakes and high tension, and the chemistry between Blake and Banner sizzles off the page. If you love action thrillers, go and read this book. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

The Long Way Home cover image

The Long Way Home cover image

LONG WAY HOME by Eva Dolan (Harvill Secker)

Another fabulous debut of 2014 is LONG WAY HOME. DS Mel Ferreira and DI Dushan Zigic from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit are called in to investigate the murder of an unidentified man, burnt alive in a garden shed. As they start their investigation the man is identified as an immigrant, but no one will talk about the murder. There are plenty of suspects though; from the owners of the shed who seem to be hiding something, to a convicted arsonist, and the local men who use (and abuse) cheap labour – the victim seems to have made plenty of enemies. Question is, who killed him and why?

A compelling and moving story, from the brutal murder, to the horrendous conditions immigrant workers are found to be living in, their callous treatment and the cheapness of human life to the trafficking gangs and local racketeers. DI Zigic and DS Ferreira battle to bring the guilty to justice against the backdrop of a city where the undercurrent of radical tension is high and the threat of violence never far away.

Beautifully crafted, artfully plotted and deeply thought provoking, this stunning debut is the beginning of a fantastic new crime series.

Better Off Dead cover image

Better Off Dead cover image

BETTER OFF DEAD by Tom Wood (Sphere)

BETTER OFF DEAD has terrific pace, a contemporary, gritty feel and, rather unexpected for a novel whose protagonist is an assassin, a real depth of heart.

In this story, Victor (the Assassin) is called by an old contact, now enemy – Russian crime boss Norimov – and asked to protect his estranged daughter who is being targeted by an unidentified gang. At first Victor refuses, but finally agrees to find and protect Gisele in honour of her dead mother, who was his friend.

In London, Victor realises that finding Gisele may be more problematic than he’d first anticipated. When he locates Gisele things aren’t any clearer. She has no idea who is after her, and is highly reluctant to go with him. He manages to persuade her, and that’s when the serious attacks begin.

Forced to rely on his instincts and training, Victor battles to keep Gisele safe as they try to unravel the real motive driving those that are targeting her. The bond that grows between Gisele and Victor makes them an engaging pair. Gisele’s a fast learner and a brave co-protagonist. She’s also rather adept at challenging Victor, acting rather like a moral compass in the more violent moments.

With some fabulous action scenes, and ever increasing stakes, this is a breath-taking read from start to finish. A must read for fans of action thrillers.

Dear Daughter cover image

Dear Daughter cover image

DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little (Harvill Secker)

Told from the point of view of Jane “Janie” Jenkins DEAR DAUGHTER tracks the IT girl turned criminal as she searches to find the truth about her mother’s murder – did she do it? If she didn’t, who did and why?

It’s an action-packed, cross-country race of a read as Janie follows the few clues she has to the secrets in her mother’s past – the family Janie’s never met, the childhood her mother never spoke about – hunting out anyone who can help her find out what links her glamorous, wealthy mother to a small town out in the middle of nowhere.

But it’s not easy with the media, and an especially determined blogger, out to find her. So Janie goes undercover, transforming her super bitchy, razor sharp-witted, and hair to die for self into a more wallflower-esq alter ego. And it works, for a while. But as she digs deeper, and starts to uncover the secrets hidden for so long by her mother, and those of other members of the close-knit community, her true identity – and the danger that brings – is discovered.

Janie is a real love-to-hate protagonist – smart and resourceful, and I loved riding along with her on the hunt for the truth. Mystery, suspense, a non-stop pace and a wonderfully quirky, strong female narrator – this book has them all. I read it in a single weekend.

The Dying Place cover image

The Dying Place cover image

THE DYING PLACE by Luca Veste (Avon)

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.

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. 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.

A fast-paced police procedural that keeps you guessing right to the end, THE DYING PLACE is a truly gripping read.

 

So that was 2014. I can’t wait to find out what wonderful books 2015 has in store …

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

CTG Reviews: The Distance by Helen Giltrow

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

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?”

This is a stylish, espionage-type thriller with a bold and courageous female lead character. Karla (and her alter-ego Charlotte Alton) is super-smart, brave and principled (in her own very distinct way). She is the best of the best at helping people who want to disappear, and is herself a master of disguise.

But this job is different. To get a hit-man into ‘The Programme’ – an experimental prison that is meant to be impossible to break in or out of, and the hit-man is Johanssen – a guy she has a history with.

Karla takes the job, but as Johanssen assumes a new identity in order to enter The Programme, Karla gets increasingly suspicious of the client and their motives. The target of the hit is a woman, and the only information they have on her is a photo and an assurance that she did ‘something bad. Yet she seemingly has no identity, no history, and there is no record of her being inside the prison. Still, Karla has seen the CCTV footage – she knows that the target is inside and very much exists.

Concerned for Johanssen’s safety, Karla digs deeper to find the identity of the target and, in doing so, unravels the complex web of lies, bribes and murder. As she gets closer to uncovering the violent truth hidden behind the hit, Karla, and those close to her, become targets.

Set in the near future and played out over twenty-four days, the story is packed with tension. It’s told in the present tense, which adds to the momentum, and hammers along at a tremendous pace. The plot twists and turns, then twists some more and turns again, ramping up the suspense page by page. A great read, it had me hooked from the first page to the last.

Dark, edgy and, at times, brutal, this is a stylish and highly original debut.

Highly recommended.

 

[I bought my copy of The Distance]