CTG’s #threewordbookreview – The Killing Habit by Mark Billingham

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Today’s three word ‘micro’ book review features the latest in the brilliant Tom Thorne  series – THE KILLING HABIT – by Mark Billingham.

Here’s what the blurb says: “We all know the signs: cruelty, lack of empathy, the killing of animals. Now pets on suburban London streets are being stalked by a shadow, and it could just be the start. DI Tom Thorne knows the psychological profile of such offenders all too well, so when he is tasked with catching this notorious killer of domestic cats, he sees the chance to stop a series of homicides before they happen. Others are less convinced, so once more, Thorne relies on DI Nicola Tanner to help him solve the case before the culprit starts hunting people. It’s a journey that brings them face to face with a killer who will tear their lives apart.”

My verdict: TENSE. GRITTY. PROCEDURAL.

This is one of my favourite crime series and this book is another cracker – an essential read for fans of crime fiction and police procedurals.

The Killing Habit is out now from Sphere. To find out more and buy the book click the cover below and hop over to Amazon:

CTG REVIEWS: TWO O’CLOCK BOY by MARK HILL

 

Today I’m delighted to be a part of Mark Hill’s blog tour for the debut that’s taking the UK by storm – Two O’Clock Boy.

What the blurb says:

“TWO CHILDHOOD FRIENDS… ONE BECAME A DETECTIVE… ONE BECAME A KILLER…

Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home’s manager.

Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis’ favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.

Now, a mysterious figure, the Two O’Clock Boy, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders – but he will go even further to cover up the truth.”

From the chilling prologue to the nail-bitingly intense final pages this London-set police procedural had me hooked.

Longacre Children’s Home burnt to the ground thirty years ago, but the horrors that occurred during the time it was open still haunt those that grew up there and the adults that had dealings with the place. Most of them just want to forget, but someone won’t leave the past behind – they are picking off the people who grew up at Longacre – and dragging back up all the secrets that have been burried for thirty years.

Enter newly promoted DS Flick Crowley and her mentor and boss DI Raymond Drake. Two dynamic detectives determined to get to the truth behind the murders – and also two people with connections to the Longacre themselves. As their professional and personal lives colide, and they try to piece together the evidence as the body count rises, can they work together to find the killer or will the memories and questions the investigation raises force them apart?

I loved this story with its strong procedural detail and gritty, authentic feel to the narrative. Flick and Ray are two great new police characters and, as the investigation puts increasing pressure on their relationship, I was fascinated to find out how things would play out.

The story twists and turns, ratcheting up the tension with every chapter as one-by-one the past residents of the Longacre are singled out by the mysterious Two O’Clock Boy. As more secrets get exposed, and Flick and Ray get ever closer to the killer, the pace accelerates to full throttle, propelling you into the edge-of-the-seat show down and shocking revelations at the climax.

The Two O’Clock Boy is a masterful debut and a real must-read for lovers of police procedurals and detective stories – I recommend you add it to your ‘to read’ stack immediately!!

 

You can find out more about Mark Hill by popping over to his website at www.markhillauthor.com and following him on Twitter @markhillwriter

The Two O’Clock Boy is out in paperback and eBook now – you can buy it here from Amazon and here from Waterstones

And don’t forget to check out all the stops on the Two O’Clock Boy One Hot Blog Tour…

 

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SPOTLIGHT ON: ONLINE MAG – CRIME FICTION FIX

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Crime Fiction Fix is a digital subscription-only magazine for writers and readers of crime fiction. It’s been running since August 2015 when it was founded by editor Sarah Williams – author of How to Write Crime Fiction (Little, Brown 2015).

Each month’s issue features exclusive content including video interviews with bestselling authors, top tips from criminology experts, opportunities for new writers to showcase their work, and regular articles including:

  • Book reviews:  Free-to-view book reviews on the latest crime fiction reads.
  • Members Showcase: An opportunity for magazine subscribers to showcase their work to fellow Crime Fiction Fix
  • The Back Story: Well-known crime writers give an in-depth commentary on specific passages of their writing.
  • Conference Report:  On the ground reports from key crime events and festivals .
  • Events round-up: Listings of the key must-attend events in the crime fiction calendar.

Editor Sarah Williams told us more about the magazine and how it came about :“The idea for Crime Fiction Fix crystallised on a drive down the M4 on the way back from CrimeFest in Bristol a couple of years ago. I love crime fiction conventions and conferences. They bring together three of my abiding passions – learning about the craft of writing, talking to crime writers and finding out about new authors. I didn’t want it to end. And so I conceived the idea of a monthly online crime writing magazine providing bite-sized chunks of insights and information, together with a video interview with an established crime fiction writer, talking about their writing – a magazine that would be of use to writers and of interest to readers.

Crime Fiction Fix has now been running for just over a year, and an exhausting and exciting year it has been. We have a highly gifted and committed editorial team, some amazing techies, but above all we have been struck by the extraordinary generosity of crime fiction writers, ready to share their time, advice and experience, of the technical experts who provide invaluable guidance on all aspects of crime fighting and of the publishers who have kept us informed about new authors and forthcoming publications.

Our aim above all is to be illuminating, exciting, informative and supportive, providing access to the understanding and insights of established mystery writers and a platform for new crime fiction writers to showcase their work, all in the context of an ongoing conversation about the craft of crime fiction writing.

It’s a great privilege and enormous fun.

 

To find out more hop over to www.crime-fiction-fix.com  and be sure to follow the magazine on Twitter @CrimeFictionFix

To subscribe visit the website at www.crime-fiction-fix.com/join_now

Annual subscriptions are £35 and single issues are £3.50 each.

 

The #ThinIce Blog Tour: Icelandic Noir crime writer Quentin Bates talks rough justice

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Today I’m delighted to welcome the charming Icelandic Noir crime writer Quentin Bates to the CTG blog as part of his THIN ICE Blog Tour. For this stop on his marathon tour, Quentin’s talking about the process of writing Thin Ice and rough justice.

Over to Quentin …

It’s not easy to write about Thin Ice. it was started so long ago, also finished so long ago that now I’m deep into another book and the details are starting to get hazy.

Thin Ice was started with the first couple of chapters written and then put aside while I finished something else (Summerchill, the novella that was published last year) and the Thin Ice characters gradually began to take shape in the background. Normally any time I had a long drive is when they’d start to come to life, with details scribbled down at motorway cafés.

It hinged on with Magni, the good-natured, burly, practically-minded former trawlerman down on his luck and lured into making a quick buck as hired muscle for a real criminal. That’s Össur, the wannabe crime kingpin who has the ruthless lack of scruples the role needs but not the brains, which is why he has always been angrily in the shadow of smarter criminals.

The other key characters, Erna and Tinna Lind, the two women Össur and Magni carjack when their escape to the sun goes so badly wrong, took a while to come together and there were a few false starts until the relationships between the four of them, stranded in a closed-for-winter upcountry hotel, started to gel. The alliances and animosities crystallised as hidden talents for survival appeared and the tensions ramped up over a large bag of stolen cash and the knowledge that the underworld as well as the police would be searching high and low for Össur and Magni.

I had written half the book and had no firm idea of how it would all come together before I started writing the police side of the tale. A good copper needs a respectable adversary, and once I had the bad guys in place, the parts played by Gunna and her two sidekicks, Helgi and Eiríkur, slotted in around the willing and unwilling fugitives, right up to the last fifty pages where things start to go badly wrong, or right, depending on your point of view.

I do like a good villain, but a decent villain can’t be entirely bad. There has to be something in there that you can sympathise with, as one-hundred-per-cent evil people with no redeeming features don’t exist. Or do they? Or are they just extremely rare?

Magni’s no genuine bad guy, just someone who agrees to do something stupid after a run of bad luck and a few beers. Össur really is bad, but with a past like his and the old trauma that makes him sweat with fear every time he sits in a car, the reader gets an insight into why he’s as screwed up as he is.

The bad guys are the ones who are fun to write. They can range from outright evil to mildly flawed, with every kind of variation between the two extremes and can go off on odd tangents, while the sleuths need to be fairly sensible – well, most of the time. That’s not to say I’m not deeply fond of my rotund heroine (even though I give her a rough time of it) and her colleagues and family, because I am. But a good villain and a crime is what sets the ball rolling.

I also like a villain who gets away with it. That’s the way things happen in real life as criminals all too frequently get away with the goods and live happily ever after, especially if they can afford good lawyers. I know that’s not to everyone’s taste and a majority of readers like to see justice being done. So while I also like to dish out justice, the form it takes might take you by surprise.

So is there justice in Thin Ice? Do the bad guys get off scot-free or does Gunna get her man? Let’s just say there’s some justice done, but it’s not what you might expect.

THIN ICE is published now. Here’s the blurb: “Snowed in with a couple of psychopaths for the winter … When two small-time crooks rob Reykjavik’s premier drugs dealer, hoping for a quick escape to the sun, their plans start to unravel after their getaway driver fails to show. Tensions mount between the pair and the two women they have grabbed as hostages when they find themselves holed upcountry in an isolated hotel that has been mothballed for the season. Back in the capital, Gunnhildur, Eirikur and Helgi find themselves at a dead end investigating what appear to be the unrelated disappearance of a mother, her daughter and their car during a day’s shopping, and the death of a thief in a house fire. Gunna and her team are faced with a set of riddles but as more people are quizzed it begins to emerge that all these unrelated incidents are in fact linked. And at the same time, two increasingly desperate lowlifes have no choice but to make some big decisions on how to get rid of their accident hostages …”

To find out more about Quentin Bates and his books pop on over to his website at www.graskeggur.com and follow him on Twitter @graskeggur

You can buy THIN ICE from Waterstones here, or from Amazon here

And be sure to check out all the fabulous stops on the THIN ICE Blog Tour …

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CTG Reviews: BLACK WIDOW by Chris Brookmyre

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What the blurb says: “Diana Jager is clever, strong and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism. Yet it takes only hours for her life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing. Then she meets Peter. He’s kind, generous, and knows nothing about her past: the second chance she’s been waiting for. Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairy-tale romance. But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairy-tales, and tasks maverick reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media is calling Black Widow …”

This psychological thriller is very difficult to review without giving anything about the story away!

What I will say is that this is one of those books that has you guessing right to the end about what really happened, keeping you locked into the suspense of the story, hooked by the intrigue, and trying to work out who did what, and why they did what they did.

Diana Jager is a fascinating character – strong and driven on the outside, while vulnerable and hurting on the inside. As the story unfolds, revealing that the fairy-tale romance between her and her husband, Peter, wasn’t everything the papers led their readers to be believe, it becomes clear that Diana and Peter were hiding dark secrets of their own.

Jack Parlabane is wrestling with his own demons. A talented but now disgraced investigative journalist, he’s not afraid of digging deep to find the truth behind a story, but his empathy and own desires start to cloud the issues, and have the potential to put him far closer to danger than he’d ever have imagined.

This is a story where nothing is quite as it seems and the characters all have something to hide. It’s also the first Chris Brookmyre novel I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last, and although it’s part of the Jack Parlabane series I found it worked well as a standalone.

Masterfully plotted and brilliantly observed, with a touch of dark humour and a cracking pace, this intricate thriller will have you captivated right to the final page.

 

To buy BLACK WIDOW on Amazon click here

To buy BLACK WIDOW from Waterstones click here

To find out more about Chris Brookmyre and his books pop over to his website at www.brookmyre.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @cbrookmyre

 

[With thanks to Little Brown for my copy of BLACK WIDOW]

 

 

 

CTG Interviews: Chris Brookmyre about his latest novel BLACK WIDOW

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Today I’m delighted to be joined on the CTG blog by crime writer Chris Brookmyre. Chris, a former journalist, is one of Britain’s leading crime novelists and more than one million copies of his Jack Parlabane series have been sold in the UK alone. He’s kindly agreed to answer some questions about his latest book in the Jack Parlabane series – BLACK WIDOW – and talk about his writing process.

So, to the interview …

Welcome, Chris! Your latest book BLACK WIDOW is published today, can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s about how the most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves. It’s about a surgeon who has given the best years of her life to her career and is beginning to think that maybe the price was too high: she doesn’t have anyone with whom to share her life and is fearing that the time to have a husband and a family may have passed. Then out of the blue she has a whirlwind romance with a hospital IT tech: within six months they are married, and within six more he is dead. The question is: did she kill him, and if so, did she have a very good reason.

Surgeon Diana Jager is a fascinating character – strong, successful and willing to speak out for what she believes in, yet inwardly vulnerable – what was it that inspired you to create her and tell her story?

My wife is an anaesthetist who has worked in the NHS for twenty years. She saw a lot of her colleagues in the same situation as Diana in terms of giving so much of themselves to their careers. She observed a great deal of sexism in medicine, overt sexism in terms of how people are treated and spoken to, but also a more insidious, pervasive covert sexism in terms of how it is made a lot easier for male doctors to have both a career and a family. They are seldom forced to choose, or judged for their decisions. The other inspiration was the way I’ve seen women abused on social media for being even the slightest bit outspoken. I wanted to create a character who would be an acerbic and divisive blogger in order to show what the fall-out might be like for a woman who dared to stick her head above the parapet.

How does a story idea start for you – with a character, a theme, a plot, all three, or something different?

I honestly can’t remember. By the time I’ve finished writing a book, there has been so many processes gone through that the seeds are lost in this miasma of inter-tangled ideas. It’s different for every book. With Black Widow I wanted to write about how we are inclined to trust people early in a relationship because we are desperate for it to work out, and that can blind you to danger signs. I’ve touched upon this in previous books: how we tend to intellectually rationalise our fears in order to convince ourselves everything will be okay, when in fact we should listen when our instincts are telling us to run.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot your novels out in advance, or dive right in and see where the story takes you?

These days it’s more the former, but in the past it was the latter. I would come up with outlandish ideas that excited me, and before I knew it I was mired in them. I would end up drawing upon my wife to help work out a way of pulling all the threads together into a satisfying conclusion. A good example is All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye, where I came up with the concept of this very law-abiding and dutiful grandmother who gets drawn into a world of espionage. The possibilities were so intoxicating that the book just got longer and longer, but in recent times I have been plotting my books very carefully. Not too much because you don’t want it to seem like your characters are on a rail, but with something like Black Widow, which is very twisty turny, if you want to misdirect the reader, you have to control the information and be very conscious of how much the reader knows at any given time. In order to do that, you need to know where it’s all going. As a character says in the Sacred Art of Stealing, you won’t know anything until you know everything.

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So, what’s next for Jack Parlabane? Do you have another series book planned and, if so, will things start to look up for him in his private life?

I’ve actually just finished the first draft of the next Jack Parlabane book, and having in recent novels been wrestling with the implosion of print journalism, at the start of the new one he is finally turning things around. He bags a job at a very forward-thinking news website, and one of the characters remarks to him that Jack is so used to things going wrong, he finds it hard to accept it when things are going right. Parlabane replies that this is because when everything is going right, that’s usually the sign that a meteor is about to strike, which of course it soon does.

As crime writers are also usually avid crime readers, can you tell us what’s your favourite crime novel and why?

Strangely enough, perhaps my favourite crime novel is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I always loved Douglas Adams’ work, and when he decided to write a detective story, it was of course an entertainingly bizarre detective story. As soon as I finished it I went back to the beginning and read it again because it was a novel that read completely differently second time around, once you knew what was really going on. Since then it has been my ambition to write a novel that would have readers to that, and hopefully I have realised that ambition with Black Widow. The best twists aren’t merely a surprise: the best twists change the meaning of everything so that you can go back and read the same chapters again and it’s like seeing the same events through different eyes.

And, finally, what does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?

I will be polishing up the next novel, which is entitled Want You Gone, and I am also writing another science fiction novel. It won’t be outlandish far-future science fiction: I am hoping to take my crime readers with me because the plan is that it will be a crime novel that just happens to be set in space.

Huge thanks to Chris Brookmyre for stopping by the CTG blog today and letting me grill him.

BLACK WIDOW is out today.

To buy it from Amazon, click on the link here 

To buy it from Waterstones click on the link here

You can find out more about Chris and his novels by hopping on over to his website here and following him on Twitter @cbrookmyre

 

And, I’ll be reviewing his fabulous new book – BLACK WIDOW – here tomorrow so don’t forget to stop by then!

 

What happened when CTG met … Martyn Waites aka Tania Carver

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I met Martyn Waites (aka Tania Carver) at the Princess Louise pub in London. It’s an old Victorian place with wood panelled booths and a traditional bar. Over beer and pork scratchings, we chatted about crime fiction, country music, and what it’s like writing under multiple names …

Your latest novel – HEARTBREAKER – is the 7th Tania Carver novel featuring DI Phil Brennan and Psychologist Marina Esposito. As you know, I’m a huge fan of the series, and I found the killer in this book especially chilling. What was it that led you to create that particular character?

I never set out to create a villain. The character might have done horrible things, but everyone is the hero of their own story, so I come at it from that angle. It’s about making monsters more human. I think you have to look at characters that way or you don’t get the depth of psychological involvement needed for the story.

Their side of the story was quite interesting to plot. At first I wanted to let the reader know the killer’s identity halfway through the book and have them see the character manipulating and manoeuvring the chess pieces during the second half. But in the end I went back and changed it, so that the story kept the reader guessing till close to the end.

The question in my mind was what would attract someone who’s a natural predator to do [what they do in the book]? I like the juxtaposition between their job and what they do privately, and at the same time I wanted to make them good at their job. I wanted to create someone who had a life – I like giving good characteristics and traits to bad characters. I hate looking at things as black and white – grey is so much more interesting.

During the course of the series, and especially in HEARTBREAKER, you’ve put Phil and Marina through a lot both professionally and as a couple. Was their relationship something you’d planned out from the start of the series or has it grown organically book by book?

I make it up as I go along! I know when I start a book they have to be in a different place emotionally at the end, and that the story has to have moved them on as characters – without that, everything stays on the surface. In a series it’s difficult to do, but worth doing. Every novel needs to be a good jumping on point for new readers, but also give readers of the series something more. I like surprising the reader!

You’ve written books under your own name – the Joe Donovan series, the Stephen Larkin series, the Woman in Black: Angel of Death, Great Lost Albums – as well as the Tania Carver novels. What is it that attracts you to a story idea, and how do you decide which of your names it’s right for?

I’m not sure! I had actually started working on a Tania book, but about fifty pages in I realised it was a Martyn Waites novel so I stopped. I’ve got another idea for a standalone, and an idea for a comic series which I’m putting together. I’ve got an idea for a supernatural horror crime novel too where the premise came to me fully formed – I was on the tube at the time and had to get off so I could write it down. With writing, I think it’s about opening up yourself to different ideas, and then finding someone to pay you for writing them!

When I write I don’t have a specific reader in mind, but I do want to give the reader a good experience. It comes from when I was acting. I was on tour in a Catherine Cookson play (as the villain) and my mother and her friends had all saved up so they could buy good tickets to come and watch it. That really reminded me that the audience have paid money to see a play and deserve to enjoy it. It’s the same with readers – I don’t write for a specific person but I want the reader to have the best experience they can. It means you can never feel complacent and do something half-arsed. It makes me my own worst critic – I always think I can do better.

What’s your writing process – do you plot everything out in advance or dive right in and see what happens?

Bit of both really. I start with a premise, maybe a couple of images, and some questions – what’s happened? Why did it happen? From there I’ll write a bit and see what happens and where it gets to. In the new one I’m writing [the 8th Tania Carver novel] a couple of new characters have popped up and I just love putting them in scenes – that’s the exciting bit. I tend to use the first part of the book as an audition for the characters, then do a bit of structuring and plan a list of things that will happen.

With this book I’ve changed to writing at night. I start work at 8pm and write through to midnight, or if it’s going well until 2am. I like working at night. It’s like you’re alone with your thoughts and the house is silent. It’s comforting. It makes it feel like a good time to write.

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Like me, you have a love of country music. What are you listening to at the moment? And do you listen to music as you’re writing?

I need silence when I’m writing. I’ve tried writing in coffee shops, but I can’t do proper work away from my desk or dining room table (which I sit at for a change of scenery). So I can’t listen to music as I write, although I wish that I could.

I do listen to music to get me into the right mood to write, and this is different depending on the book. For one book I would listen to Night Owl by Gerry Rafferty, and for another it was Verdi Cries by 10,000 Maniacs. I’m currently listening to Everything’s Fine by The Willard Grant Conspiracy (really miserable) and Mark Lanegan (kind of less miserable) – both put me in the right mood for writing. If I want something more upbeat, then I listen to some sixties southern soul like James Carr.

What was it that drew you into writing crime fiction and how did you get started?

I was a fan of crime fiction. I read a lot of the stuff, and am a huge comics fan, but couldn’t read sci-fi. I read a lot of pulp fiction and when I picked up a copy of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely I knew I’d found my thing. I read everything by Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Dashiell Hammett. Then discovered James Ellroy and James Lee Burke. I didn’t really like the UK stuff like Agatha Christie, but I loved the contemporary American stuff and the way it was reporting on a society I recognised. I wondered why no one was doing that it in the UK – so I decided to write a novel. At the same time others had the same thought and were taking the idea in their own direction – people like Ian Rankin. Crime fiction was the only type of books that really connected with me, I was left cold by UK literary fiction – it all seemed to be about the beauty of a sentence and showing off. I hated it. Whereas Ellroy and Lee Burke demonstrated that literary crime could be accessible and contemporary.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication?

Someone once said that the main difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer is that a professional writer doesn’t take no for an answer! It took me five years to be published and during that time I was turned down by everyone!

Keep writing. Keep getting better. Don’t take no for an answer.

I still turn up to crime fiction events feeling like I’m going to be told my time’s up. You just need to keep on writing, and re-writing and re-writing. And if you get knocked back ask why – you’re never going to get better unless you know why you’re getting rejected, so ask.

And finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

Finishing the next Tania Carver novel, which will hopefully be finished sooner rather than later – it’ll be out in summer 2016 as an eBook, and autumn 2016 in paperback. Then my back catalogue is being published in France and I’ll be going there to attend some festivals.

And with that our drinks were finished, the pork scratchings eaten, and the interview over.

A huge thank you to Martyn Waites (aka Tania Carver) for letting me ply him with beer and interrogate him about his books and writing.

Be sure to check out HEARTBREAKER – the fabulously gritty, super-chilling latest book in the DI Phil Brennan and Psychologist Marina Esposito series by Tania Carver.

Here’s the blurb: “After years of abuse, Gemma Adderley has finally found the courage to leave her violent husband. She has taken one debilitating beating too many, endured one esteem-destroying insult too much. Taking her seven-year-old daughter Carly, she leaves the house, determined to salvage what she can of her life. She phones Safe Harbour, a women’s refuge, and they tell her which street corner to wait on and what the car that will pick her up will look like. They tell her the word the driver will use so she know it’s safe to get in.

And that’s the last they hear from her.

Gemma Adderley’s daughter Carly is found wandering the city streets on her own the next day. Her mother’s mutilated corpse turns up by the canal several weeks later. Her heart has been removed. Detective Inspector Phil Brennan takes on the case, and his wife, psychologist Marina Esposito, is brought in to try and help unlock Carly’s memories of what happened that day. The race is on to solve the case before the Heartbreaker strikes again …”

You can find out more about Martyn Waites (and Tania Carver) over on www.martynwaites.com and follow Martyn on Twitter @MartynWaites

And click on the book cover below to buy HEARTBREAKER from Amazon:

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