Thursday, 20 September 2018

Killer Women Weekend - Talking to Sarah Hilary, Mel McGrath and Kate Rhodes

On Sunday October 21st, 2018, the Killer Women are taking over the Courtrooms above Browns Restaurant in London' Covent Garden, with events about crime novels, crime audio, crime television and true crime. 

But that's enough from me. Here are three of the Killer Women to tell you what influences their own writing and why this year's Killer Women Festival 2018 is the place to be!

Sarah Hilary
Sarah is author of the Marnie Rome series. She will be chairing the Fresh Blood panel at the Killer Women Festival (16.30-17.30).

1. Which crime fiction author or novel has influenced your own writing the most?
Am I allowed an author and a novel? The author would be Patricia Highsmith. There's something about her writing - so smooth and cool on the surface but it tangles you up and ties you to her world so utterly - which I'm always trying to unravel and from which I'm always learning. The novel would be Rebecca. I re-read it recently, and it struck me all over again just how much it affected me as a reader, and a budding writer. I first read it the summer I turned eleven, which I always thought was the ideal age to read it - as a young adolescent - but I enjoyed it hugely this last time, and took so much more from it than I ever have before. The emotion, the psychology, the atmospherics; it really is a masterpiece of storytelling.

2. Have you found a particular non-fiction book to be essential to (or influence) your own writing?
I'm a big fan of true crime. Most recently I enjoyed This House of Grief by Helen Garner, about a murder trial in Australia. It was utterly compelling, and almost unendurably real. The non-fiction book I've returned to most often when writing the Marnie Rome series is The Eye: A Human History by Simon Ing, for everything it has to say about the psychology of seeing and how we witness the world.

3. In 10 words or less, how would you describe Killer Women Festival 2018?
Ten tense, thrilling and tremendous hours for lovers of crime.

Mel McGrath
Mel's most recently book is a psychological thriller called Give Me the Child. She will be chairing the Sex Crime: Writing Sex in the #MeToo Age panel at the Killer Women Festival (10.15-11.15).

1. Which crime fiction author or novel has influenced your own writing the most?
I really can't just name one, but Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith both come to mind

2. Have you found a particular non-fiction book to be essential to (or influence) your own writing?
Really early on, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. In the last couple of years probably Helen Garner's This House of Grief. Both brilliant non-fiction books about the impact of crime as much as about the crime itself.

3. In 10 words or less, how would you describe Killer Women Festival 2018? 
Friendly, inclusive festival programmed by authors with readers in mind.

Kate Rhodes
Kate Rhodes is author of the Alice Quentin crime series and, most recently, the Hell Bay series.

1. Which crime fiction author or novel has influenced your own writing the most?
It’s horribly difficult to choose just one, but if those are the rules, I’ll pick Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene. I read it in my early teens, when it just seemed like a thrilling story, full of gangsters and danger. It’s only as an adult that I realise how beautifully woven the plot is, and that it works as a moral fable, with brilliant use of language.
2. Have you found a particular non-fiction book to be essential to (or influence) your own writing?
I tend to use websites, not printed materials when doing research, opting for specialist sites written by experts and updated regularly. My most recent book is about deep sea diving, so I combed the internet, looking for information on techniques, instead of putting on a diving suit myself!
3. In 10 words or less, how would you describe Killer Women Festival 2018?
A friendly, brilliant collection of crime-related events, open to everyone.

Find out more
This year's Killer Women Festival features bestselling authors, police experts, forensic scientists and criminologists. Visit the website here to find out more.

The programme includes panels on forensic psychology, forensic science, forensic archaeology, the criminal justice system, geographic profiling, espionage and more! Check out what's going on here.

And visit here to buy tickets!

Monday, 17 September 2018

Jean Levy's Writing Toolkit

WRITING TOOLKIT gives you an idea of an author's writing process through the tools they use. The tools can be anything (real or virtual) that they think is essential for their writing - serious, fun or even a fetish (that they're willing to own up to)! 

I am delighted to welcome 





What Was Lost was published on 13 September 2018 by The Dome Press.

Where I write
Mostly, I can write any place, any time. I have few requirements. I suppose it comes of years of leaving things to the last minute: homework on the school bus, research reports scribbled on the train, editorials dispatched as the deadline closes. That history of brinkmanship, of just scraping in under the wire, means that I’m not that fussy about chaos.

This is the dining table in my flat. It’s one of two places that I do my writing. Needless to say, we eat out a lot. The other place I write is the family barn. There’s a bigger table there, but there’s also a large bath and that’s probably one of my essentials. If I’m about to start a new sequence, introduce a new character or put the finishing touches to a critical conversation, I run a really hot bath, infused with a Seaweed and Arnica concoction that Father Christmas brings me every year (he gets it from Neal’s Yard). I think the combination of heat and fragrance helps me focus. Probably an increased blood supply to the brain, although I prefer not to think about that. Obviously, on these occasions I have to resort to traditional writing methods: sheets of A4 paper folded twice and an inky pen that writes upside down. (Do not attempt this bath-writing using electronic devices. Dunking iPads/mobiles into an infusion of seaweed and arnica never goes well.)

And those critical conversations … I rehearse them way before bath time, whilst weeding, whilst staring out the flat window at the Cathedral, whilst driving. The floor of my car is littered with quick notes scribbled on till receipts and parking tickets. Of course, silence is essential. I can’t expect my characters to have conversations with noise going on around them. In fact, I mostly can’t write surrounded by noise: the TV, seagulls, pneumatic drills, dripping taps, and definitely not music. Music imposes emotions and sometimes those emotions are not appropriate to what I’m writing.

Wine, food
Wine is not really essential, although I find a glass of prosecco always encourages creativity. Or a Pinotage when it’s cold outside. And I don’t really eat during the day, just cups of tea/coffee and the occasional bowl of pistachio ice cream.

Apps, books, software
Apart from the till receipts and the soggy bath notes, I write directly onto my laptop and back up on a flash drive (constantly), an external hard drive (occasionally) and by sending myself an email attachment (daily). I write in Word, the enemy that know. I search/check using Google and an online dictionary and thesaurus. As far as creative writing books are concerned, I had my fill of those during a Creative Writing degree. They are often a bit flaky, although some are good regarding plot, characters, dialogue. I’d recommend Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. But I’ve found that the best sources for writing technique are books on basic narratology:

Cobley, P. (2001). Narrative: The New Critical Idiom. Routledge, Oxford.
Martin, W. (1986). Recent Theories of Narrative. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

There are many others more recent than that. And there’s a good website I’ve used:

The major considerations for any writer are plot, character, location, time and tense, sequence, description versus action, pace, use of dialogue, point of view, status of the narrator and narrative focus, but their expression rests upon good grammar and I’m a bit of a pedant when it comes to that. It’s a result of seven years of research into temporal linguistics … but that’s another story. David Crystal has written some very readable books on basic grammar. ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk, White and Kalman bridges the gap between creativity and serious grammar, and there’s always Lynne Truss’s  ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’.

By far the best way of realising writing techniques is to read good writers: Sebastian Faulks, Virginia Woolf, Ian McEwan and James Joyce for the beauty of their words, Margaret Atwood for her parallel and non-linear plots, Angela Carter for her imagery, Winterson for her experimental and challenging narratives, Philip Pullman for sheer imagination, Douglas Adams for his humour, and Jane Austen as the pioneer of the techniques of psychonarration.

Social media
I’m not a big fan of Twitter, although I’m going to try harder. I visit Facebook most days, but I find myself watching YouTube dog and cat and Trump videos. And that gets you nowhere.

Exercise and other alien activities
I don’t really do sport, gym, jogging, running. I haven’t got time. Although I know people who strongly recommend such things.

I’ve often been asked where my characters come from. Well, apart from the occasional evil antagonist, they are hybrids of people I have known. The arrogance, dithering, mendacity, the eccentricities and outrageous affectations, love and friendships I have portrayed in What Was Lost are all drawn from experience.

I suppose the actual process of writing is the result of days, even weeks of mulling things around in my mind, and I find the best time to do that is in the dark, in bed, before I go to sleep. When you’ve given up on everything else and your time’s your own. However, I learned long ago that those perfect plot solutions can disappear overnight, so if I do think of something inspirational I grope for my phone and make a note of it. Just a word or two to jog my memory.
As far as time managing my writing is concerned, I have to admit that I would write all day long. And sometimes I do. Sometimes I reach a point in the plot which refuses to be paused. I have occasionally written through the night, stopping only to accept my morning cup of tea. My husband is very understanding. I can remember, a few years back, taking part in the NaNoWriMo Challenge … just writing all day, every day. I lost all sense of time. It was great, although I realised on one occasion that, for the first time in my adult life, I had started a day, ended a day and proceeded to the next day without having a shower in between. I suppose what I’m saying is I don’t not write. Only when something prevents me from doing so.


About Jean Levy
Jean spent several years in genetics research before abandoning the laboratory to pursue a career in academic publishing both in Holland and the UK. She has been a database trouble- shooter, an editor, and a writer for publishing houses, pharmaceutical companies and the EU. She has degrees in Botany, Pathology, Philosophy, English, Law and Creative Writing and is currently completing a doctorate in Linguistics. 
In her spare time she has campaigned for the environment and read a lot of books, the most memorable being Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, everything by Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson, and a few things by Sebastian Faulks, Calvino, Ian McEwan, David Mitchell and Shakespeare. 
She currently lives in a converted barn in the South Downs with her husband and a Heritage Plant Collection, accumulates Christmas tree decorations and aspires to writing multi-genre fiction, travelling on the Orient Express and seeing the Northern Lights. 

Find Jean Levy on Twitter - @JeanELevy

About What Was Lost

Published by The Dome Press (13 September 2018)

Publisher's description
How would you live if you had no memories? And what if you were suspected of a terrible crime?
Sarah has no memories. She just knows she was found, near death, on a beach miles from her London home. Now she is part of a medical experiment to see whether her past can be retrieved.
But bad things seemed to have happened before she disappeared. The police are interested in her hidden memories too. A nice man she meets in the supermarket appears to have her best interests at heart. He seems to understand her - almost as if he knows her...
As she fights to regain her memories and her sense of self, it is clear that people are hiding things from her. Who are they protecting? Does Sarah really want the truth?

Here's a snippet from my review: 'What Was Lost is a compelling literary read - an in-depth multilayered psychological thriller based on science that's designed to question, explore and entertain.'

Read my full review here

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What Was Lost by Jean Levy

What Was Lost
By Jean Levy
Published by The Dome Press (13 September 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
How would you live if you had no memories? And what if you were suspected of a terrible crime?
Sarah has no memories. She just knows she was found, near death, on a beach miles from her London home. Now she is part of a medical experiment to see whether her past can be retrieved.
But bad things seemed to have happened before she disappeared. The police are interested in her hidden memories too. A nice man she meets in the supermarket appears to have her best interests at heart. He seems to understand her - almost as if he knows her...
As she fights to regain her memories and her sense of self, it is clear that people are hiding things from her. Who are they protecting? Does Sarah really want the truth?

My verdict
What Was Lost is a beautifully written psychological thriller covering themes of memory, identity and discovery.

The book is based on a frightening concept - losing your adult memories, so that all that remain are those of your childhood. This is what's happened to Sarah, after she was found, alone and badly injured, on a beach far away from home. She can't remember her friends, family, loved ones or colleagues. She's in a child-like state - physically an adult, but emotionally that of a young girl. She's learning how to live again, doing simple tasks and taking on responsibilities, questioning everything around her, including herself. At the same time, her doctors are hiding the facts about her life, trying to find out whether her memories will return on their own. And more importantly, trying to establish whether her memory loss is real or not.

Most of the story is told through Sarah's point of view, so the reader is relying on her experience of current events. I wasn't sure how easily she could be trusted from the start - you can't get a more unreliable narrator than someone with no memories. But then as she began to question everything around her, I wondered if maybe no one else could be trusted either. The author clearly knows her science as this is present in abundance, as Sarah's doctors and counsellors cushion, control and experiment to learn more about memories and the impact of amnesia. And then there are the police, lurking in the background, desperate to know the truth about what happened to Sarah and some recent tragic events.

What Was Lost is a slow burner, and I admit that it took me a little while to get into the story. But I soon found myself savouring the wonderful prose and stunning vivid descriptions, down to the finer detail of Sarah's life. I loved the London setting and little insights into the publishing industry.

There's plenty of mystery and intrigue, as gradually snippets of Sarah's past are tossed into the arena, like little sparks lighting up her fog-filled mind. I can't say much about the other people in the book as they are all carefully, cleverly and gradually revealed one by one, like shadowy figures on the side of a stage awaiting their cue. The reader is as much in the dark as Sarah, relying on these characters to fill in some of the memory gaps.

What Was Lost is a compelling literary read - an in-depth multilayered psychological thriller based on science that's designed to question, explore and entertain.

Friday, 14 September 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Craig Robertson - Bloody Scotland Blog Tour

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


for the Bloody Scotland blog tour

to share his BEST OF CRIME ...

Lawrence Block. Picking just one isn’t easy or fair but if I can’t also choose James Elroy, William McIlvanney, Ian Rankin or Alexandra Sokoloff, my other principal influences, then I’ll opt for Mr Block. His Bernie Rhodenbarr books in particular are masterclasses in character, location and plot. They are laugh out loud funny, stylish and compelling.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Larry last week at Bouchercon in St Petersburg and I can happily report that he’s as smart, funny and insightful in person as between the pages of his books.

LA Confidential. Movies rarely translate the feel of a book as well as this one does. It drips in sweat and shimmers in the heat of steamy summer nights as you sway to the beat of bebop and booze. Elroy’s web of corruption, cops and copulation is brought vividly to life. Trust no one, suspect everyone, watch your back and never take your eyes off the screen. 

The Wire. I came to this this show very late, after years of everyone telling me how good it was, and it turned out they were absolutely right all along. When I finally got to it, I was completely hooked and promptly binged five seasons in as many weeks. The volatile, interconnected lives of those on both sides of the law in Baltimore are shocking, heartbreaking, funny and irresistible. The Wire contains some of my favourite characters in any form of drama, whether on the page or the screen. Bunk, Omar, McNulty, Lester, Kima, Snoop. I miss them!

Norman Bates. Take your pick if you want Robert Bloch’s cold, sweaty misogynist or Hitchcock’s more sympathetic - but just as deadly - movie variation. Either way this mummy’s boy is the stuff of enduring nightmares, a killer for the ages. That his name so immediately resonates nearly sixty years later is testament to his chilling creation.

John Rebus. Gruff and dour, a pint in one hand and a smoke in the other, carrying the reminders of every glove that laid him down, Rebus was the blueprint for so many that came after. Brilliantly crafted by Ian Rankin, Rebus is the first cop you’d want on your side. An old devil on the side of the angels, he’d also be my first choice to go for a beer with.

I’m struggling to think of anything unusual so I’m going to cheat and use one of my own. In my debut Random, all the crimes had to be out of the ordinary to ensure media attention. One victim had a rolled up newspaper stuffed down their throat, another was frozen to death, one had his mouth taped and nostrils glued together. My personal favourite is probably the unfortunate supermarket worker who was administered pure liquid nicotine and came to a very messy and undignified end on Till 18. My murders have probably been more mundane - but more meaningful - since then, although my new book is set to change that again.

The most traumatic remains the shooting of Bambi’s mother. If there was one crime, factual or fictional, that I’d like to see solved and the murderer brought to justice, it would be this. Forget Jack the Ripper, the Black Dahlia or even who really shot JFK, I want that hunter named, shamed and strapped to Old Sparky till his sideburns sizzle.
I was taken to see Bambi in a cinema that has long since been torn down when I was about five. I cried. A lot.

Google Maps. YouTube. Hidden Glasgow. 28 Days Later (an urban exploring site). These are some of my most used websites for research, whether it’s for finding houses, pubs, how-to advice or fun new murder sites.

Don’t write what you know. Write what you care about. 

I frequently forget to eat when I’m writing. I actually have a very bad habit of forgetting to stand, eat or go to the toilet. Subsequently, my legs don’t always work when I eventually remember to take a break or finish for the night. So, if I have to pick a writing snack, I think it might be a shiraz or a rioja.

Craig Robertson is a Sunday Times bestselling author, and his debut novel, Random, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger. His novel Murderabilia was longlisted for the UK’s top crime fiction awards, including Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2017 and the McIlvanney Prize 2017. During his twenty-year career with a Scottish Sunday newspaper, Craig Robertson interviewed three recent prime ministers and reported on major stories including 9/11, the Dunblane school massacre, the Omagh car bombing, and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Find Craig Robertson on his website, on his Facebook page and on Twitter - @CraigRobertson_


Bloody Scotland established itself as the leading Scottish International Crime Writing Festival in 2012 with acclaimed writers Lin Anderson and Alex Gray at the helm, then joined by Craig Robertson and Gordon Brown. Based in Stirling, Bloody Scotland has brought hundreds of crime writers new and established to the stage with always enthusiastic attendees who make the festival every bit as much as the writers do.
Priding ourselves as the literary festival where you can let down your hair and enjoy a drink at the bar with your favourite crime writer, we strive to put on entertaining as well as informative events during a weekend in September, covering a range of criminal subjects from fictional forensics, psychological thrillers, tartan noir, cosy crime and many more. With an international focus at the heart of Bloody Scotland, we are always looking to bring in crime writing talent from outside of Scotland whom you may not have heard about. You might, however, knows us for our annual Scotland vs England football cup which always draws a crowd and inevitably ends in tears for someone…

The Bloody Scotland Team 2018: Lin Anderson, Gordon Brown, Craig Robertson, Jenny Brown, Muriel Binnie, Catriona Reynolds, Bob McDevitt, Laura Jones, Abir Mukherjee, Fiona Brownlee & Tim Donald

To find out more, visit the Bloody Scotland website here and follow Bloody Scotland on Twitter - @BloodyScotland 

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2018

In Bloom by CJ Skuse

In Bloom
By CJ Skuse
Published by HQ (9 August 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
If only they knew the real truth. It should be my face on those front pages. My headlines. I did those things, not him. I just want to stand on that doorstep and scream it: IT WAS ME. ME. ME. ME. ME!
Rhiannon Lewis has successfully fooled the world and framed her cheating fiancé Craig for the depraved and bloody killing spree she committed. She should be ecstatic that she’s free.
Except for one small problem. She’s pregnant with her ex lover’s child. The ex-lover she only recently chopped up and buried in her in-laws garden. And as much as Rhiannon wants to continue making her way through her kill lists, a small voice inside is trying to make her stop.
But can a killer’s urges ever really be curbed?

My verdict
Sweetpea was one of my favourite books of 2017 - a perfect serial killer read filled with dark humour. In Bloom follows on from the moment Sweetpea ends, with Rhiannon pregnant and in a serious spot of bother.

I really didn't think CJ Skuse could top Sweetpea, but she certainly has. In Bloom is evil and dark, with plenty of shocks and surprises, and is certainly not for the faint-hearted. It's also emotional and even heartbreaking in places, as Rhiannon tries to come to terms with her impending motherhood and make some decisions about her future.

Yet again, I found myself rooting for Rhiannon when I really shouldn't, getting a better understanding of her background and why she's the way she is. While she appears fairly 'normal' on the outside with her love of her dog Tink and her Sylvanians collection, she's certainly not a 'people person' - although she has now made a friend, of sorts, called Marnie. The question that arises throughout the book is whether Rhiannon is 'mother material'.

The book reads like a totally twisted pregnancy guide. Rhiannon describes all of her aches and pains, angst and worries, as you would expect in any pregnancy, but then there are also her murderous tendencies and psychotic urges. Fortunately (or not so fortunately for her), she now has a conscience - her unborn baby. The book is cleverly (and hilariously) written as 'baby' makes Rhiannon choose between being a mother and being a murderer every time she 'gets the serial killer urge'.

In Bloom is another fantastic read from CJ Skuse, as long as you don't mind bad language, graphic descriptions and some uncomfortable reading! This book sets the scene perfectly for another book (although it does tie up loose ends too) and I'm now desperate to know what happens next!

Friday, 7 September 2018

The After Wife by Cass Hunter

I am delighted to be today's stop on the blog tour for The After Wife by Cass Hunter. The After Wife was published by Trapeze Books on 6th September 2018. Read on for my review...

The After Wife
By Cass Hunter
Published by Trapeze Books (6 September 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher


Publisher's description
When Rachel and Aidan fell in love, they thought it was forever.
She was a brilliant, high-flying scientist. He was her loving and supportive husband.
Now she's gone, and Aidan must carry on and raise their daughter alone.
But Rachel has left behind her life's work, a gift of love to see them through the dark days after her death.
A gift called iRachel.

My verdict
The After Wife is a bittersweet novel about humanity, identity, love and grief - and I loved it.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this book, as I hadn't actually read the blurb, but sometimes it's better to dive in without any preconceptions. It didn't take long to immerse myself into the lives of Rachel, Aidan and Chloe - ordinary lives that became so extraordinary when tragedy struck. I found myself whizzing through the pages, following the family's emotional journey as iRachel became part of the household.

Beautifully written, this is a compelling and unique story with a modern twist - a well-crafted book that made me laugh, cry and think about the meaning of life. Despite being set in a slightly more technologically-advanced future, it all seemed very credible and believable, and the science was written seamlessly into the story. I was drawn to the contrast between iRachel, learning how to be independent, create memories and live as a human, and Aidan's mother, Sinead, whose dementia was slowly taking away her own memories, humanity and independence.

The After Wife is a thought-provoking read - a book that creates more questions than it answers. I've recently been watching the TV series Westworld, which also has humanoid robots at its heart and had already prompted so many questions. What makes us human? What gives us our unique identity? What makes us able to love those around us? Can we truly learn to experience emotion? How much do our memories and life experiences shape us?

I knew that however it ended, The After Wife would bring tears to my eyes. And it certainly did, along with a lump in my throat.

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Thursday, 6 September 2018

Brothers in Blood by Amer Anwar

Brothers in Blood
By Amer Anwar
Published by Dialogue Books
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
A Sikh girl on the run. A Muslim ex-con who has to find her. A whole heap of trouble. 
Southall, West London. After being released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders' yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put the past behind him.
But when Zaq is forced to search for his boss's runaway daughter, he quickly finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge. 
With time running out and pressure mounting, can he find the missing girl before it's too late? And if he does, can he keep her - and himself - alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?

My verdict
Brothers in Blood is gritty, dark, violent and lots of fun.

This action-packed crime thriller is set in the Asian community in Southall. I can't say for sure whether or not this is authentic, as I don't know the area at all. But it certainly felt it, as Amer Anwar led me along the cultural tightrope in this close-knit community, with reference to languages, foods, family life and clashes between local Sikhs and Muslims.

The plot centres around Zaq Khan, who has been released from prison (after an unfortunate incident) and is trying to keep his head down. He's forced to turn private eye when his Sikh boss Mr Brar tasks him with finding his daughter Rita, who has run off with a Muslim man. Zaq tries to refuse the job, but Mr Brar gives him no choice - threatening to send him back to prison using false allegations.

As Zaq explores every aspect of Rita's life, he realises her disappearance isn't as clear cut as it seems and he's putting his life in danger. He has to think fast, act fast and talk fast to get himself out of several precarious situations. The book isn't for the faint-hearted, with some well-described fight scenes. I don't think I'll ever look at lemons and chilli powder in the same way again - ouch! It's also filled with comedic moments and plenty of warmth, thanks to the interactions between Zaq and his best friend Jags.

Brothers in Blood may be a bit far fetched in places but this just added to the pace, resulting in a gripping climax. This would be perfect for the small or big screen, with its fight scenes, car chases, well-plotted storyline, larger-than-life characters and sharp dialogue. The book covers fresh, contemporary themes - a novel of modern day Britain - and taught me a lot about different Asian cultures. Highly recommended!