Monday, 20 May 2019

BEST OF CRIME with Helen FitzGerald

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 


to share her BEST OF CRIME ...

Fyodor Dostoevsky.I like crime novels that draw me in to a real world populated by real characters, and Dostoevsky is the master at that. Raskolnikov’s struggle with his guilt in Crime and Punishment is one of the greatest tales in literature. 

The Silence of the Lambs. FBI trainee Clarice Starling and serial killer Hannibal Lecter are the most thrilling and intriguing odd couple in the history of crime movies. Everything about the film is great, as is the novel it was based on, but the two central characters elevate it to something more. They’ve rightly become iconic. 

Breaking Bad. I loved the Shakespearean transformation from ordinary decent man to The One Who Knocks. 

Hannibal Lecter: I don’t normally go for the “Killer as Artist” or “Killer as Philosopher” tropes, but you’ve got to make an exception for Hannibal. He just enjoys killing so much – and he’s so good at it.

Columbo. I liked the fact that you knew straight away who had committed the crime. None of that red herring stuff. And then you could just sit back and watch as he shuffled around in his grotty raincoat, outwitting the evildoers who constantly underestimated him. I later found out that the character of Lieutenant Columbo was inspired in part by Porfiry Petrovich in Crime and Punishment, which made me feel very clever for liking him.

Death by larva. I once killed-off a baddy by tying him to a chair, making hundreds of little cuts all over his skin and tucking a maggot into each one. 

Hereditary. The scene where one of the children loses her head still keeps me awake at night.

Sometimes your first idea isn’t inspiration – it’s just your first idea.

Toast and vegemite.

Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband.

Find Helen FitzGerald on her website and on Twitter - @FitzHelen


Publisher's description
Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line. Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists. Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice … with devastating consequences. 

Here's a snippet from my review: "Worst Case Scenario is dark, insane, shocking and highly entertaining - menopausal AND criminal madness. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments, cringeworthy ones and sad ones too."

Read my full review here.

Worst Case Scenario was published by Orenda Books on 16 May 2019.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

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Thursday, 16 May 2019

Being a Detective by Stephen Wade and Stuart Gibbon

Being a Detective (A Straightforward Guide)
By Stephen Wade and Stuart Gibbon
Straightforward Publishing (25 March 2019)

Publisher's description
A Straightforward Guide to Being a Detective An A-Z Readers and Writers Guide to Detective Work Past and Present is an essential research companion for all writers of crime fiction and non-fiction. In all genres of popular crime writing today, detective characters figure prominently. What is the life of a detective actually like? What was it like in 1890 or 1990? Former detective Stuart Gibbon and crime historian Stephen Wade answer these questions in this new companion guide. This new volume provides an ideal companion volume to the authors' previous book, The Crime Writer's Casebook.

My verdict
Being a Detective is yet another fascinating book for crime readers and writers, from former detective Stuart Gibbon and crime historian Stephen Wade. It's subtitled 'A Crime Writers' and Readers' A-Z of Detective Work Past and Present'.

Arranged in an A to Z form, the book is easy to dip into, and I found myself learning plenty of new facts each time. It's written in a chatty style with some highly technical topics explained in the right tone of voice for the layperson and personal insights from the authors. The book is bang up-to-date (e.g. number spoofing, contactless card fraud, shoulder surfing, drones) but historical context is included too.

The topics in the book are highly varied, from Body Language Forensics and Cashpoint Robbery Crimes to Training to Become a Detective and You're Nicked. I loved the case studies dotted strategically throughout the book bringing the facts to life.

Crime writers will find this book particularly useful, whether it's as a starting point for new ideas or a resource for the right facts, procedures and terminology. When I was in my late teens (and early 20s) and first realised I wanted to write crime fiction, I collected the American 'Howdunit' series of books, with topics including cause of death, deadly doses and scene of the crime. I still have the series but the books are not only US-focused but also very out of date. Two brilliant Straightforward Guides are already available (the first one being called The Crime Writer's Casebook), and this is turning into an essential bookshelf series. I hope there's another one on its way!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Violet by SJI Holliday - cover reveal!

Today, I'm delighted and excited to be hosting a cover reveal for Violet by SJI Holliday, which is being published by Orenda Books in November 2019.

SJI (or rather, Susi) Holliday is a favourite author of mine, as many people will know. I was mesmerised by her last book, The Lingering, on my way back from Harrogate last year. 
So I can't wait to read this new one. 

Before I show you the cover of Violet, you must read the blurb. 

*drum roll*

Violet: Read the blurb

Carrie's best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they'd planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone. 

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available. 
When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend's place.
Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…
A tense and twisted psychological thriller about obsession, manipulation and toxic friendships, Violet also reminds us that there's a reason why mother told us not to talk to strangers…

Sounds brilliant, doesn't it?! 
I can't wait to read it - Susi is such a great writer and Violet sounds like yet another chilling read.   

AND NOW.... *drum roll*

Are you ready????

Violet: View the cover

Isn't this amazing? Clue: try standing on your head. 
If you've seen the cover of The Lingering, you'll see how well these two covers will sit alongside one another. If you haven't seen The Lingering, check out the cover and buy the book too! 

Violet: Read about author SJI (Susi) Holliday

S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday is a scientist, writing coach and the bestselling author of five crime novels, including the Banktoun Trilogy (Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly), the festive chiller The Deaths of December and her creepy Gothic psychological thriller The Lingering. Her short story Home From Home was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and shortlisted for the CWA Margery Allingham Prize. Encapsulating her love of travel and claustrophobic settings, her latest novel, Violet, explores toxic friendships and the perils of talking to strangers. All of her novels have been UK ebook number-one bestsellers. Susi was born and raised in Scotland and now divides her time between Edinburgh, London and as many other exciting places that she can fit in.

Find Susi Holliday via her website, through her Facebook page and on Twitter - @SJIHolliday

For ALL of your Orenda news, visit the Orenda website and follow @OrendaBooks on Twitter.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Little: A Novel by Edward Carey

Little: A Novel
By Edward Carey
Published by Aardvark Bureau (16 May 2019)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
Born in Alsace in 1761, the unsightly, diminutive Marie Grosholtz is quickly nicknamed “Little”. Orphaned at the age of six, she finds employment in the household of reclusive anatomist, Dr Curtius. Her role soon surpasses that of mere servant as the eccentric doctor takes an interest in his newfound companion and begins to instruct her in the fine art of wax modelling.
From the gutters of pre-revolutionary France to the luxury of the Palace of Versailles, from clutching the still-warm heads of Robespierre’s Terror to finding something very like love, Little traces the improbable fortunes of a bloodstained crumb of a thing who went on to shape the world...

My verdict
Little is a unique gothic historical novel. Not only is it written beautifully but it is illustrated beautifully too.

This is the reimagined memoir of the little girl who became one of the world's renowned waxwork artists, Madame Tussauds. The writing is poetic, with often-humorous descriptions of its vibrant characters, as little orphaned Marie Grosholtz (nicknamed 'Little') is taken into employment by a reclusive anatomist and artist. I laughed, I grimaced, I cried and I winced, as the author transported me back in time to the French Revolution.

This book is rich in history and science, darkness and despair, power and intrigue, beauty and tenderness. It's gruesome and eccentric, wonderfully weird, whacky and even wicked in places, as is the concept of creating waxworks, not just of the best in society but also of the worst.

Little is like nothing I have read before, and I will possible never read anything like it again. As already mentioned briefly, the intricate illustrations are outstanding, bringing the author's descriptions to life. I read this book incredibly slowly, just so that I could savour the language of the prose.

Just like Madame Tussaud's legacy, this book is innovative, quirky and highly memorable - a story of an extraordinary life as well as a stunning work of art.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Breakers by Doug Johnstone

By Doug Johnstone
Published by Orenda Books (Ebook - out now; Paperback - 16 May 2019)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
A toxic family … a fight for survival…
Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings, he’s also trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addict mum.
On a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead, but that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt.
With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in devastating danger, Tyler meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house, and he thinks she may just be his salvation … unless he drags her down too.

My verdict
Breakers is a compelling, gritty crime novel that shattered my heart. So different from the authors' previous novel, Faultlines, but just as brilliant.

Set mainly in a deprived area of Edinburgh, this is an honest, and often brutal, portrayal of a broken family ruined by drink, drugs and crime. Yet it's also filled with glimmers of light, as 17-year-old Tyler is determined to create a better life for himself and his younger sister Bethany.

I struggled to put Breakers down. This character-led psychological thriller is filled with astute observations, vivid descriptions and punchy dialogue. Taut writing means that every word counts. It's tense and shocking and felt very real. I was so invested in the characters that I had to know how it ended, holding my breath during some of the final chapters - I had to know that Tyler and Bethany were safe.

Breakers is a story of family, love and responsibility. A story of resilience and determination in a toxic world, with a teenager fighting against nature and nurture to do what's right. And a story that highlights the rich-poor divide and that possessions shouldn't (and don't) define us, as it's what's inside us that counts.

This is a book that will give you food for thought - and characters who will stay with you long after you've turned the final page.

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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

BEST OF CRIME with Fiona Erskine

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 


to share her BEST OF CRIME ...

When it comes to thrillers, I adore Robert Harris, John Le Carré and Lee Child, but my current favourite is Lionel Davidson. I devoured Kolymsky Heights, raced through Rose of Tibet and lingered onthe delicate and tragic Smith’s Gazelle.

An Oscar winning film, The Lives of Othersset in 1984 East Germany is a subtle but thrilling portrayal of good people betrayed by those who should protect them. Sebastian Koch is a joy to watch, but it is the internal journey of secret policeman Ulrich Mühe that captivates.
(2006 Das Leben der Anderen Florian Henckel von Dennersmark)

For its perfect combination of superb writing and faultless acting, I have to pick The KillingThe intricate plot, the honest exploration of bereavement, the charismatic politician, all arebrilliantly handled but it is Sofie Gräbøl’s gritty portrayal of Detective Sarah Lund that steals the show for me.
(2007 Forbrydelsen Birger Larsen)

It is very hard to think of a more chilling and compelling character than Dr Hannibal Lecter (in Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris). I like my antagonists cerebral, and my fava beans sautéed.

I am more interested in reluctant detectives who operate outside the constraints of police procedure, which is why I warmed to the intrepid V.I. Warshawski (Sara Paretsky) and the naughty Nick Belsey (Oliver Harris). But I’ll make an exception for my current favourites Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant “Surrender Not” Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force in the brilliant series by Abir Mukherjee set in 1920’s India.

An elephant (stomping in A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee).

It’s a dead heat between the opening of Red Snow by Will Dean (man splats open in snow after falling from the tower of a salty liquorice factory) and the opening of Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee (man escapes police raid in opium den only to trip over enucleated corpse).

The sadly defunct WordCloud of the Writers’ Workshop kept me sane while I was starting to write. Now Emma Darwin’s wonderful this itch of writing helps me to improve.

Read outside your genre, fiction and non-fiction, poetry, drama and prose. Read inside your genre: the good – to push yourself; the bad – to avoid the same pitfalls; and the ugly - to work out why it doesn’t work for you as a reader. Act as a beta reader for others - not just so they return the favour, but to hone your surgical skills before you turn to murderous vivisection on your own manuscript.

Write lots. Write every day. If you are stuck, write “I remember…” and just see what flows. If you’re stuck with the novel, write some flash fiction, poetry or short stories instead. Write for yourself. No writing is wasted. It’s a muscle that needs exercising.


Fiona Erskine is a professional engineer based in Teesside, although she travels often to Brazil, Russia, India and China. As a female engineer, she is often the lone representative of her gender in board meetings, cargo ships, night-time factories and offshore oil rigs, and her fiction offers an insight into this traditionally male world.

Find Fiona Erskine on her website and on Twitter - @erskine_fiona


Publisher's description
Dr Jaq Silver. Skier, scientist, international jet-setter, explosives expert. She blows things up to keep people safe. 
Working on avalanche control in Slovenia, Jaq stumbles across a problem with a consignment of explosives. After raising a complaint with the supplier, a multinational chemical company, her evidence disappears. Jaq is warned, threatened, accused of professional incompetence and suspended. Taking her complaint further, she narrowly escapes death only to be framed for murder. Escaping from police custody, she sets out to find the key to the mystery.
Racing between the snowy slopes of Slovenia and the ghostly ruins of Chernobyl, can she uncover the truth before her time runs out?

The Chemical Detective was published by Point Blank, an imprint of Oneworld, in hardback on 4 April 2019.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

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Monday, 6 May 2019

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

The Way of All Flesh
By Ambrose Parry
Published by Canongate Books (2 May 2019)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
Edinburgh, 1847. Will Raven is a medical student, apprenticing for the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson. Sarah Fisher is Simpson's housemaid, and has all of Raven's intelligence but none of his privileges.
As bodies begin to appear across the Old Town, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh's underworld. And if either of them are to make it out alive, they will have to work together to find out who's responsible for the gruesome deaths.

My verdict
The Way of All Flesh is the first in a new series of historical crime novels. It's chilling, gripping and vivid and took me right into the heart of the darkness of 19th century Edinburgh.

I loved not only the historical background but the medical background too, both twined together by a common thread - the invention of anaesthesia and the rise of early modern scientific techniques. The authors have carefully placed real life characters and events within a largely fictional setting by focusing on a series of gruesome murders. Will Raven and Sarah Fisher make a believable pairing as they work together, somewhat reluctantly at first, to solve these crimes.

The Way of All Flesh is a must-read for all historical crime fiction fans. It was fun, entertaining, fascinating and brutal, with well-developed characters and a well-paced plot. The book features a strong mix of mystery, history of medicine, social history, science, art (photography) and even some romance. I can't wait to read the next one in the series (The Art of Dying), which is being published in hardback in August 2019.

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