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

CTG Reviews: The Samaritan by Mason Cross

cover image

cover image

What the blurb says: “When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered in the Santa Monica Mountains, LAPD Detective Jessica Allen knows she’s seen this MO before – two and a half years ago on the other side of the country. A sadistic serial killer has been operating undetected for a decade, preying on lone female drivers who have broken down. The press dub the killer ‘The Samaritan’, but with no leads and a killer who leaves no traces, the police investigation quickly grinds to a halt.

That’s when Carter Blake shows up to volunteer his services. He’s a skilled manhunter with an uncanny ability to predict the Samaritan’s next moves. At first, Allen and her colleagues are suspicious. After all, their new ally shares some uncomfortable similarities to the man they’re tracking. But as the Samaritan takes his slaughter to the next level, Blake must find a way to stop him … even if it means bringing his own past crashing down on top of him.”

Since reading the first couple of chapters of The Samaritan in a teaser sampler last September I’ve been dying to get my hands on this latest book by Mason Cross. And let me tell you, the wait has certainly been worth it!

The Samaritan is packed with all the trademark heart-stopping action, break-neck pace, and twisting-turning plotlines that made Mason’s debut novel – The Killing Season – such a huge success.

In The Samaritan we also get to find out more about the past of mysterious ‘people finder’ Carter Blake (although don’t worry, he’s still pretty damn mysterious!). Jessica Allen is a great female lead – strong, determined and courageous in the face of extreme danger. She reluctantly accepts Blake’s assistance, but is less inclined to completely trust him. As they each follow their own lines of enquiry, gradually closing in on this most brutally sadistic of serial killers, they both become targets. Question is, can they get to the killer before the killer gets them?

Set in Florida and California, The Samaritan showcases some great locations (including one very creepy and atmospheric one that I can’t mention – sorry, it’d be too much of a spoiler) to create a vivid backdrop to the story.

With great characters, fab locations and a super-twisty plot, The Samaritan is an absolute page-turner. And I already can’t wait for the next Carter Blake novel – I think this is a series that’s going to run and run.

A fabulous must-read for thriller lovers – and one of my top reads of 2015 so far – I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

 

[with thanks to Orion Books for my copy of The Samaritan]

 

 

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!

CTG Reviews: The Killing Season by Mason Cross

 

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season was one of my top reads of 2014. It’s now out in paperback, and to celebrate I thought I’d re-run my review …

What the blurb says: “When Caleb Wardell, the infamous ‘Chicago Sniper’, escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of Carter Blake, a man with certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don’t want to be found. A man to whom Wardell is no stranger.

Along with Elaine Banner, an ambitious special agent juggling life as a single mother with her increasingly high-flying career, Blake must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random.

But Blake and Banner soon find themselves sidelined from the case. And as they try desperately to second guess a man who kills purely for the thrill of it, they uncover a hornets’ nest of lies and corruption. Now Blake must break the rules and go head to head with the FBI if he is to stop Wardell and expose a deadly conspiracy that will rock the country.”

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 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 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.

So as Banner and Blake pursue Wardell, following the evidence, trying to find a pattern and anticipate his next move, the body count continues to rise. Blake’s the only person who is able to get close, and Banner starts to realise that sometimes the only way to get the job done right is to step away from procedure and follow your instinct.

As Blake and Banner get closer to the truth, they become targets – in the sights of Wardell and someone in the Agency itself – question is, can they get to them both in time, and get out alive?

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, if you love crime fiction, go and read this book. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Highly Recommended.

[with thanks to Orion for my copy of The Killing Season]

photo-3

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 …

Bloody Brilliant Scotland 2014

 

The Female in Crime Fiction panel being introduced

The Female in Crime Fiction panel being introduced

Last weekend was Bloody Scotland 2014. This hugely friendly and welcoming crime writing festival is going from strength to strength. Now in its third year, the festival played host to a plethora of crime writers in three days of entertaining, informative and massively fun events.

Having spent the best part of seven hours on trains travelling from my home to Stirling, I met up with some friends at the Stirling Highland Hotel and then headed over to Hotel Colessio for Mark Billingham and Stuart McBride’s Dead Funny event. As with the Billingham and Brookmyre double act last year, Billingham and McBride answering questions from readers (allegedly) made for a hilarious evening with McBride’s dark poetry, and the skilful answering by both authors of some rather random questions from the audience, real high spots.

Next morning, Saturday, I helped out SJI Holiday (acting as her notetaker) at an interview with Kati Hirekkapelto, author of fabulous book The Hummingbird, before having a quick walk around Stirling – seeing the Castle, the city walls, and peering into the old Gaol.

Then it was off to the New Blood/Fresh Meat panel featuring Eva Dolan, Hania Allen, and Mason Cross. Each of the panel began by reading from their debut novels – three different styles and stories, and all super gripping. Then, led by moderator Peggy Hughes, they spoke about how they got the idea for the novel, the research they did, and what their route to publication was like.

At the same time, the Scotland versus England 5-a-side Football match was taking place. With Ian Rankin captaining Scotland and Mark Billingham captaining England there was a good turnout to watch the battle commence and the #BloodyScotland twitter feed was alive with score updates and photos. After a tense game, the final score was Scotland 13 – England 1, and the magnificent silver trophy went to Scotland.

Next up, I went along to The Female in Crime Fiction (in association with Glasgow Women’s Library) panel with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Lin Anderson, and Catriona McPherson. The panel debated female protagonists in crime fiction (including how many crime books would pass the Bechdel test which looks at whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man), the joy of reading a thriller that compels you to turn the page (crime writing top tip – always keep the secret withheld as long as you can!), and why it might be that women make up more than half the readership of crime fiction.

The next panel featured Luca Veste, Michael Malone, and Martyn Waites, chaired by Mark Billingham. This lively and entertaining panel discussed their most recent books, the importance of location and why they’d chosen to locate their books where they had, how they go about doing research, their route to publication and how Martyn Waites came to take on his alter ego – Tanya Carver.

The final event of the day was Ian Rankin in conversation with Kathy Reichs. This session in the Albert Halls seemed to fly by with Kathy Reichs talking about her route to publication, what it’s like working on a long running TV show (having to think up new murders after 200 episodes being one of the challenges!) and what it’s like co-writing a YA series with her son.

Then it was off to dinner with friends at the amazing Maharaja curry house before chatting in the bar well into the early hours.

On Sunday I was actually part of an event rather than just watching. Having submitted a 100 word synopsis for the Pitch Perfect session I was excited (and terrified) to hear that my story was one of seven that had been picked to be pitched. Along with the other six pitchers I was ushered into the green room and introduced to the wonderful Jenny Brown who chaired the session. From there it was on to the event with publishers Alison Hennessey (Harvill Secker), Krystyna Green (Constable & Robinson) and Tricia Jackson (Pan MacMillan) on the panel. Each pitcher had three minutes to pitch their story. There were some great pitches, and I think it was probably the longest three minutes of my life! But good fun and I’d definitely recommend it. The panel were friendly and their feedback hugely helpful, and Margaret Stewart was a most deserving winner.

And then it was over.

As I set off on my journey home, I reflected on what a fantastic weekend I’d had – great panels, a fabulous location, a warm and friendly atmosphere and the chance to catch up with all my writerly pals.

The seven hour trip was definitely worth it.

 

CTG Interviews: Mason Cross author of The Killing Season

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

After his Saturday morning panel at CrimeFest, I met up with the charming and rather mysterious Mason Cross – author of The Killing Season.

Over coffee in the rather fancy drawing room of the Bristol College Green Marriott Hotel we chatted about his fabulous debut novel – one of my favourite reads of 2014 so far – his writing process, and geeked-out about our mutual admiration for all things Lee Child and Jack Reacher.

Here’s the interview …

So Mason, firstly, where do you write?

Lots of places. In the house – at my computer surrounded by CDs and a huge pile of washing. I find it’s really important to have a writing space, like Stephen King said, you need a place to go to and close the door. Also, I travel a lot for work. Commuting into Edinburgh on the train is the optimum place for me to write as there’s no distractions just so long as I don’t get WiFi. Having a full-time job I’ve learnt to grab writing time whenever and wherever I can, so I can write in all different places – pubs, cafes, a park bench.

I find it important to write every day, even if it’s only 500 words. Those 500 words will turn into, say, 3000 words in a week, and in a few months a whole lot more.

Are you a planner or a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser?

I always feel guilty admitting to plotting! But I do start out with a fairly detailed synopsis, with the key beats outlined. Right now, I’ve got a five page synopsis for the next book, but I know that as I write the plan will change. So I’m flexible, but I have a path to wander from. I use Powerpoint to plan – one slide per chapter – and build up from there. I find it’s a good way to keep track of the action as I write, and also keep track of the different timelines.

And when it comes to writing when are you most productive – are you a lark or an owl?

An owl – I’m better at night, definitely.

So what about research – do you do it, and if so how and how much?

I tend to research while I’m redrafting. It’s mostly internet based research, so for The Killing Season I looked up the FBI website, read books on serial killers and snipers including Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, which was really helpful on the history of the FBI. And, of course, I read a lot of other thrillers.

Carter Blake is a very mysterious guy. Are you like him and, if so, in what ways?

Like a lot of other thriller writers say about their characters, I think Carter Blake is a cooler, taller, better looking, better in a fight version of me. He tends not to talk about himself, which is something we share, and he’s methodical, which I tend to be too. But the green eyes? They’re completely different!

Actually Banner, the female FBI agent that Carter Blake partners-up with in The Killing Season, is similar to me is some ways too. She has a full-time job, she’s balancing family life, kids alongside – having to sort out a babysitter and get to school play while also doing her job.

Who would play Carter Blake in a movie?

I didn’t really have a person in mind as I wrote. Carter’s still quite a mysterious character even to me!

What authors do you read – who are your inspirations?

I take something from most books I read. My favourites? I guess they’d be Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, John D MacDonald. Oh, and Raymond Chandler – even after all the years since his books were first published they still seem so fresh and the writing is so good.

What’s your favourite all time book?

Must I pick one?! [I said, okay, two then] Well then, The Big Sleep and The Shinning.

What’s your favourite drink?

A Mojito.

And finally, what have you got planned for the rest of 2014/15?

Well, the next book is due out in Spring 2015. It’s called The Samaritan and is set in LA. I’ve also sold a story to Ellery Queen, which I’m really excited about, and it should be out soon. For the rest of 2014 I’ll be promoting The Killing Season.

 

The coffee was finished. The interview was over. And Mason was off to cram in some more Lee Child facts in preparation for his event the following day – Criminal Mastermind.

A huge thank you to Mason for letting me interrogate him!

To find out more about Mason Cross, Carter Blake and The Killing Season, hop over to this website: http://carterblake.net/

And read our review of The Killing Season click here 

Confessions from CrimeFest: Part Three

Mark Billingham interviewed by Martyn Waites

Mark Billingham interviewed by Martyn Waites

And so onto Saturday!

First up, I headed to the 9am panel Name Your Price: The Hired Gun. Moderated by Meg Gardiner, with panellists Mason Cross, Hanna Jameson, John Gordon Sinclair, and Mark Allen Smith, the panel discussed the attraction of the ‘hired gun’ as protagonist, the mystery surrounding the character that rides into town, sorts out the problem, then disappears again, and the joys (and challenges) of writing them.

Next, I headed to the lounge to interview Mason Cross, author of The Killing Season and creator of the rather mysterious Carter Blake. It was a fun interview to do – watch this blog for the write-up coming soon.

After a leisurely lunch with friends, I headed to one of the main events of the weekend – Featured Guest of Honour: Mark Billingham interviewed by Martyn Waites. Both wearing fabulous western shirts that I’m sure Mark Billingham’s series character, Tom Thorne, would have been proud of, they took to the stage for a lively and entertaining interview covering everything from Mark’s books, the future of police procedurals, Thorne’s taste in music (it changed quite dramatically between the first book and the second) and even dachshund detectives!

Then it was on to the Arcadia Books Reception complete with tasty wine in beautiful Bristol Blue Glass glasses, followed by the Gala Awards Dinner. It was a fabulous evening with the merriment continuing way into the early hours of Sunday morning.

On Sunday I had a hangover, and it was a big one, which meant I didn’t get up very early! But I did make it along to the last event of the festival, Criminal Mastermind with Quiz Master Maxim Jakubowski interrogating contestants: Mason Cross (specialist subject Lee Child), Kate Ellis (specialist subject Josephine Tey), Paul Johnston (specialist subject Dashiell Hammett) and Susan Moody (specialist subject Raymond Chandler). It was great fun playing along in the audience, but the general crime fiction questions in the second round were seriously hard! In the end Paul Johnston was victorious.

And then the weekend was over.

As ever I was determined to resist the festival book shop – my ever multiplying ‘to be read’ pile already stretches across several rooms of the house! But, as usual, I was unable to resist the papery lure of the all those fabulous looking books, and over the weekend bought several bags full.

Authors whose books I’ve added to my mountainous ‘to be read’ pile are: Simon Kernick, Helen Giltrow, Nev Fountain, Tom Wood, Kevin Wignall, Tanya Carver, and Kate Griffin. Along with the latest books of a few of my favourite authors including Mark Billingham (The Bones Beneath), Meg Gardiner (The Shadow Tracer), and a signed copy of The Killing Season by Mason Cross.

All in all, it was a fabulously fun weekend.

Now I’m off to book my ticket for next year!

Confessions from CrimeFest: Part Two

L-R: Kevin Wignall, AK Benedict, James Oswald, Anne Zouroudi, Ben Aaronovitch

L-R: Kevin Wignall, AK Benedict, James Oswald, Anne Zouroudi, Ben Aaronovitch

I did indeed get up in time to make it to the first panel of the day, but I didn’t manage breakfast. Still, it was worth it. The Debut Authors: An Infusion of Fresh Blood panel was great fun and all the panel members were surprisingly perky for a nine o’clock start. Moderator Jake Kerridge talked to panellists MJ Arlidge, Mason Cross, Jake Woodhouse, Kate Griffin and Colette McBeth about their debut novels and the route they’d taken to publication.

Next up, was the Death in High Heels: Women as Victims panel. MR Hall, Jessica Mann, Jessie Keane, and Martyn Waites (who also writes as Tanya Carver) debated the issue of how women are portrayed in crime fiction, especially when the victim of the crime is female. It was an interesting and thought provoking discussion covering everything from at what point violence becomes ‘torture porn’ through to the use of female images on book covers.

I then had time for a swift coffee (black, no sugar) before heading into The Modern Thriller panel. As thrillers are my absolute favourite of the genre, this was one of the panels I’d been most eager to see. Moderated by Doug Johnstone, the panel of Belinda Bauer, Helen Fitzgerald, Chris Ewan and Simon Kernick talked about what constitutes the modern thriller, and how it differs from a crime novel. Defining characteristics seemed to be agreed on as pace, and a sense of urgency. They spoke of their own favourite modern thrillers, with Harlan Coben’s Tell No One coming out as a popular choice.

I didn’t stop for lunch, instead going straight on to watch the Things That Go Bump In the Night: Magic, Paranormal & All Things Supernatural panel. Moderated by Kevin Wignall, with Ben Aaronovitch, AK Benedict, James Oswald, and Anne Zouroudi, this was a lively panel with some great discussion about mixing crime with the paranormal. I particularly enjoyed some of the more random questions poised by Kevin Wignall to the panel (which were questions he had been asked by children when doing author events) – these included: ‘Can you tell me a story about a hamster?’ And ‘What would be your X-Man name and superpower?’ Fabulous.

By that point in the day I was rather panelled-out, but managed to find the energy to head along to the drinks reception that evening to watch 2014 CWA Diamond Dagger Recipient Simon Brett in performance. Then it was off for a fabulous curry with the Icelandic crime writers before heading to the bar for a few last orders drinks (and beyond!).

CTG Reviews: The Killing Season by Mason Cross

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

What the blurb says: “When Caleb Wardell, the infamous ‘Chicago Sniper’, escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of Carter Blake, a man with certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don’t want to be found. A man to whom Wardell is no stranger.

Along with Elaine Banner, an ambitious special agent juggling life as a single mother with her increasingly high-flying career, Blake must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random.

But Blake and Banner soon find themselves sidelined from the case. And as they try desperately to second guess a man who kills purely for the thrill of it, they uncover a hornets’ nest of lies and corruption. Now Blake must break the rules and go head to head with the FBI if he is to stop Wardell and expose a deadly conspiracy that will rock the country.”

First off, I have to say that this is hands-down my favorite read of the year so far. It 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 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 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.

So as Banner and Blake pursue Wardell, following the evidence, trying to find a pattern and anticipate his next move, the body count continues to rise. Blake’s the only person who is able to get close, and Banner starts to realise that sometimes the only way to get the job done right is to step away from procedure and follow your instinct.

As Blake and Banner get closer to the truth, they become targets – in the sights of Wardell and someone in the Agency itself – question is, can they get to them both in time, and get out alive?

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, if you love crime fiction, go and read this book. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Highly Recommended.

 

[with thanks to Orion for my copy of The Killing Season]