Monday, 31 October 2016


I am delighted to welcome Susan Moody to my blog today as my Author in the Spotlight. Susan's first Penny Wanawake book Penny Black was republished in February 2016 by Williams & Whiting.

Penny Wanawake was the first black female protagonist in crime fiction. Was it easy to get her accepted by readers in the 1980s? 
The Penny series was received enthusiastically by the great discerning British reading public!  There was never any discrimination of any kind, especially because the reviews were so ecstatic – this was back in the happy days when all the major newspapers and magazines, both intellectual and popular, took crime fiction seriously. So most weeks a paper like the Sunday Times or the Observer would devote part of their Book Pages to reviewing crime novels. 
It was much harder to get Penny accepted anywhere else, though eventually the books were published in the States.  There were even film options, though they were never taken up.  Most of the rest of the world remained indifferent,more's the pity.  The point about Penny Wanawake was that she was the first female protagonist who was feisty, witty, humorous and confident, as well as being beautiful.  Nor did she need a police contact to help with the solutions to the murders.  Much of the wit depends on clever punning and literary references, and many of her comments and reactions were considered hilarious by the readers, but remained untranslatable. 

If you were ‘creating' Penny for the first time today, would you change her at all?
If I changed her, she wouldn't be Penny, would she?  But neither would I create her today.  We live in a far more complex world than the one into which Penny strode thirty years ago, though she remains as amusing and clever as she always did.  Which is why I'm so pleased that go-ahead publishers Williams & Whiting have seen fit to reissue the entire series, giving a new set of readers the chance to get to know her.

Have you had to make any/many changes to your original book to fit in with contemporary society? 
I did tone right down her somewhat liberated attitude to sexual encounters (I originally intended her to be a sort of female answer to James Bond and his type!) after the first two or three books, because the scourge of AIDS appeared on the scene.  Otherwise, I believe she stands as tall now as she did then and we felt that no changes were required

Do you think crime fiction, and female protagonists in particular, have changed over the years?
Definitely.  There were very few female protagonists when I started writing, Miss Jane Marple of St Mary Mead was the principal character – and almost the only one the average reader had ever heard of, which is why the Sunday Times originally instituted a competition to find a new and original protatgonist for the genre.  Now, there are outstanding female protagonists all over the place – Kinsey Millhone and V.I. Washawski, are prime examples. 
As for crime fiction itself, years ago Dorothy Sayers stated that the genre would die out because there was no place for it to go, every option had been explored.  How wrong she was!  The genre has  become increasingly gritty over the years, while at the same time new and ingenious methods of human disposal abound in all kinds of sub-genres, such as psychological, historical, 'cosy', police procedural and so on.

How does it feel to have your book republished over 30 years on? 
Absolutely brilliant!  I'm so delighted that  Mike Linane, the dynamic CEO of W&W, decided to start his company by taking her on and treating her so well, with new and eye-catching covers, and new introductions by me.  It's like welcoming home a long-lost and beloved relative. 

What can you tell new readers about your Penny Wanawake books?
I'm often asked about the genesis of Penelope Wanawake.  It began when I found myself living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in the Sixties.  This was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, when at last people were waking up to the unjustices of a system which allowed the rights of the black population to be ignored. (As, I'm afraid, they are still being). 
Those were the years of civil disobedience as exemplified by Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus so a white person could have it.  She wasn't the first to decline to do so, but she became an important symbol of the movement. Then came the atrocious killing of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi.  In Oak Ridge, black people couldn't buy a house in a 'white' area.  They couldn't swim in the same public pools ort sattend the same schools.  My husband and I joined the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and held several meetings in our house.  The Klan came into town, their faceless hoods a terrifying sight calculated to strike fear into the heart.  We were watched. 
Came the day we were sitting – with the blinds down – in our sitting room when we noticed a weird light shining from outside.  We peeked out and discovered that a cross was burning on our front lawn.  This was seriously scary stuff.  Even more so was the incident when I pulled up at traffic lights, heavily pregnant and with my toddler in the back.  Suddenly, a jeep screeched to a halt alongside me and when I looked over at it, there were four grinning rednecks staring at me, each one of them with a rifle across his knees, pointing at me.
When I got back to England, creating the character of Penny seemed almost an obligation. 

About Susan Moody
Susan Moody's Penny Wanawake series – reissued by dynamic new publisher Williams & Whiting – propelled her into the ranks of crime-writing some thirty plus years ago, where she's happily remained ever since.  In that time, she's produced more than thirty-five books, mostly crime, including a second series character called Cassandra Swann (soon to be re-published by W&W), plus many stand-alones and short stories.  She's served as Chair of the Crime Writers Association, President of the International Association of Crime Writers, Visiting Fellow at the University of Tasmania, Visiting Fellow at the University of Copenhagen, Writing Tutor at HMP Bedford. She recently founded the hugely successful one-day crime fiction event, Deal Noir, in Deal, Kent, and will be hosting our third one on 25 March 2017.  

About Williams and Whiting

Williams & Whiting is a new publishing company formed by Mike Linane who is also co-organiser of the Deal Noir and Bodies From The Library crime fiction festivals. Williams & Whiting plan to not only re-issue many traditional crime novels from the last forty years but also to sign debut authors of both fiction and non-fiction. Mike says “I’m open to all ideas. For us, the important thing is that the book must simply be a thumping good read. Besides the Penny Wanawake Mysteries by Susan Moody, Williams & Whiting plan to publish another twenty titles this year.”

Penny Black
By Susan Moody
Published by Williams & Whiting (16 February 2016)
ISBN: 978-1911266006

Publisher's description
Meet PENNY WANAWAKE, philanthropist, free-thinker, part-time sleuth. Very tall, very classy, very black, a beautiful tigress in tigress's clothing. And her lover and friend, BARNABY, cool, witty, high-class thief, dedicated low-life. Stand by as Penny meets KIMBELL, black American detective, and blows his mind. Thrill as between them they track down the brutal killer of Penny's wacky friend MARFA, and exact poetic justice among banks of orchids ...

You can buy Penny Black here.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Black Rabbit Hall
By Eve Chase
Published by Penguin (16 June 2016)
ISBN: 978-1405919326

Publisher's description
One golden family. One fateful summer. Four lives changed forever.
Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family's country estate where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, one stormy evening in 1968, it does.
The idyllic world of the four Alton children is shattered. Fiercely bonded by the tragic events, they grow up fast. But when a glamorous stranger arrives, these loyalties are tested. Forbidden passions simmer. And another catastrophe looms...

Decades later, Lorna and her fiancé wind their way through the countryside searching for a wedding venue. Lorna is drawn to a beautiful crumbling old house she hazily remembers from her childhood, feels a bond she does not understand. When she finds a disturbing message carved into an old oak tree by one of the Alton children, she begins to realise that Black Rabbit Hall's secret history is as dark and tangled as its woods, and that, much like her own past, it must be brought into the light.

My verdict
Black Rabbit Hall has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. Now I wish I had read it sooner. It's a beautifully written tale of grief, family secrets, lies and forbidden love.

This is a powerful story of the Alton family in the 1960s and, specifically, teenager Amber. Decades later, Lorna stumbles across Black Rabbit Hall, a large dilapidated house in Cornwall, with her fiancé when they look for a wedding venue.  Lorna feels like she remembers the old house from her childhood, but has no idea why.

Black Rabbit Hall is an emotional read that left me in tears. The wonderful characters and stunning setting pulled me in straight away, with vivid descriptions and powerful dialogue. I loved how the two threads wound seamlessly together, as Amber's tragic story was gradually revealed.

I received an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Lie With Me by Sabine Durant

Lie With Me
By Sabine Durant
Published by Mulholland Books (July 2016)
ISBN: 978-1473608337

Publisher's description
It starts with a lie. The kind we've all told - to a former acquaintance we can't quite place but still, for some reason, feel the need to impress. The story of our life, embellished for the benefit of the happily married lawyer with the kids and the lovely home.
And the next thing you know, you're having dinner at their house, and accepting an invitation to join them on holiday - swept up in their perfect life, the kind you always dreamed of...
Which turns out to be less than perfect. But by the time you're trapped and sweating in the relentless Greek sun, burning to escape the tension all around you - by the time you start to realise that, however painful the truth might be, it's the lies that cause the real damage...

... well, by then, it could just be too late.

My verdict
Lie With Me is an unsettling novel of deception, complex relationships and lies. It kept me guessing all the way through. I didn't know who to trust or who to believe.

Paul Morris, the protagonist, isn't someone you're meant to like. He's an arrogant, self-obsessed and unpleasant character who's only interested in himself. When he meets an old school acquaintance, Andrew, he creates a whole fantasy world in which he's successful and popular - which couldn't be further from the truth. As Paul embarks on a relationship with Alice, a wealthy widow, and tries to worm his way into her life, the lies keep on coming. As expected, things go horribly wrong.

Lie With Me has a great sense of claustrophobia as everything closes in on Paul. Once the lies started, there was no going back. He dug himself into a deeper and deeper hole. Past lies, present lies - it didn't matter. They were all going to haunt him one day, especially as he embellished the truth so much.

I raced through Lie With Me, from start to finish. It's a fantastic gripping psychological thriller that really gets you inside the main character's head. Something I did love about Paul is that he was actually a completely honest narrator, a complete contrast to his role within the plot itself.

The sense of unease builds up gradually until I was so hooked that there was no turning away.  And by the end of the book, my mind felt like it had been totally manipulated by a clever plot and great characterisation.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Himself by Jess Kidd (book extract) - Blog Tour

I am delighted to host today's stop (the final stop) on Jess Kidd's Himself blog tour. Scroll down to read a brilliant EXTRACT. 

Himself was published in Hardback & E-book by Canongate Books on 27th October 2016. I have a copy here and will be reading it very shortly - review to come. I have heard great things about this book!

Himself Extract

Chapter 6

There’s a light on in the library and Mahony decides not to ignore Mrs Cauley’s summons to join her for a nightcap. He finds her propped up in bed, wearing a poker visor and playing solitaire.  She has listened all evening for his footfall in the hall, although she’d never admit to it.
Mahony turfs a pile of papers out of an armchair and pulls off his boots.
‘Here.’ Mrs Cauley fishes a bottle out from under her pillow. ‘Pour us a drop of the hard stuff.’
Mahony pours her a tooth mug and takes a china cup for himself.
There’s a nice silence just while they drink. The reading lamp beside the bed casts a mellow tent of light over the two of them. The dead and the mice draw in to watch, lulled and quiet. The damp settles in the corners of the room and stretches itself out along the wallpaper.
Mrs Cauley peers over at him. ‘So how’s tricks?’ She collects up the cards, as quick as a croupier.
‘Not bad. I had a good time at the pub with the boys.’
‘The boys, is it?’ She shuffles and squares the pack. ‘Watch yourself. There’s not a trustworthy soul in this town. Every one of them has at least two faces.’
Mahony puts his feet up on the bed and looks over at her. The visor shades her eyes but he’s certain she’s taking everything in. ‘They seem sound enough.’
‘Will they still drink with you when they know who you are? Do they know who you are, Mahony?’
Mahony gets up and pours himself another. He ignores the empty mug in her outstretched hand.
Mrs Cauley fixes him with her best poker face. ‘So you didn’t ask your new pals at Kerrigan’s Bar what happened to your mammy?’
Mahony swirls the bad whiskey. It dances up the sides of the cup. ‘I didn’t.’
Mrs Cauley nods. ‘That’s a shame. They’d have spun you a story about Orla leaving town.’
‘It would be no story.’
‘So you believe she left town now?’
‘If she were dead I’d know about it.’
‘You’re right of course. She’d be over there by the fire- place, knitting.’
Mahony knocks back his whiskey in one hit, before it can take the skin off the roof of his mouth. ‘She could still be alive.’
‘Because you can’t see her?’
He shrugs.
‘The dead are like cats, Mahony. You of all people should know that. They don’t always come when they’re called.’
Mahony shakes his head. ‘They could be holding her somewhere.’
Mrs Cauley raises herself up on her pillows. ‘For twenty- six years, Mahony?’
‘It happens. I read about some kid found in a woodshed.’
‘You think that’s possible? A live wire like Orla in a woodshed?’ Mrs Cauley speaks evenly. ‘You think your mother was murdered and so do I. Now I thought we’d established that?’
Johnnie strolls through the French doors, throws his faint hat down on the end of the bed and disappears. In a moment Mahony sees a plume of spectral pipe smoke coming from behind a large stack of encyclopaedias in the far corner.
Mahony nods. ‘So what’s next?’
‘We play to our strengths, isn’t that how the best detectives work? With my mind and your unnatural talents we’ll have this case cracked in no time.’
Mahony gets up, takes her cup and his and puts them on the bedside table. He pours another measure into each and wonders if he’ll ever feel his feet again. ‘All right, Miss Marple, but, first of all, how do you know so much about my unnatural talents?’
She grins. ‘Husband number four was an eminent clairvoyant.’
‘Four, is it? Jesus. So that would be the dead fella with the moustache?’
She shakes her head and smiles. ‘No, Johnnie was my fiancé. We never married, although he was the most beloved.’
Mahony puts a drink into her hand. ‘He was the one that got away?’
‘Something like that,’ says Mrs Cauley. She frowns. ‘I want to try something, Mahony.’ She takes off her visor and reaches for a headscarf hung over the bedpost. ‘Is there a breeze tonight?’
Mahony looks at her. ‘God knows. The night is still.’
‘We’ll give it a go anyways, although it’s better with a drop of wind to get it started.’
Mrs Cauley sidles to the edge of the bed. ‘Help me to get standing.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘Did you know, Mahony, that literature can be very illuminating?’
Mrs Cauley reaches for her walking frame and with Mahony’s help moves her legs off the bed and puts on her slippers. With great effort she stands and Mahony sees how small she is, not quite five feet tall and the weight of dry hide and honeycombed bone alone.
She sways, curved and calcified by time, smiling up at him. ‘Open the doors, Mahony.’
The French doors are stuck fast and blossoming with mould but eventually they give and the night air falls in around Mahony as if it’s been waiting with its face pressed against the glass.
‘That’s it. Throw them wide.’
The night air stalks into the room and starts to tease the dust along the skirting boards.
Mrs Cauley takes a step forward, stumbling a little in her carpet slippers. ‘Look around you,’ she whispers. ‘The room is changing. See? The lights are burning brighter? Can’t you feel it? The books want to tell you something. They want to help.’
And then Mahony feels it.
The books, the papers and the magazines: all of them pulsing with a faint heartbeat. They’re watching him, holding their breath. Mahony suddenly wants to shout against the pressure of all of these waiting words.
Mrs Cauley turns to Mahony and lowers her voice. ‘I last did this when Shauna’s mother left for England. I knew exactly what she was up to when Lady Chatterley’s Lover started snapping at my ankles. To say nothing of the fact that Ibsen flew across the room and nearly took the head off me.’ She knots her headscarf grimly. ‘It was A Doll’s House, so I know she won’t be back.’
Johnnie emerges from a dark corner. The ghost of a smile teases the ragged curtains of his dim moustache; with a nod to Mahony he lies down on the floor and glides under the bed.
The breeze whisks a flurry of play scripts up into the air where they drift in graceful arcs. As Mahony watches, their movements begin to change. They start to circle the room, slowly at first, then picking up speed until they whirr past with the dedication of Wall of Death bikers. Soon light pamphlets of philosophical thought start to join them, skidding across the floor and fluttering up into the whirling cloud of paper. Slim volumes of difficult poems come next, scuttling out from dark corners and flapping headlong into the swirling gyre. Even the most aloof classics join in, shedding their covers and flinging themselves, one after the other, into the vortex.
In the middle stands Mrs Cauley, clinging to her walking frame.
Then all at once the cyclone stops and the wind rushes out of the French doors.
And everything falls down to the ground.
Johnnie springs out from under the bed and, with a look of profound effort on his face, blows
a sheet of paper through the air and into the outstretched hands of Mrs Cauley.
‘Close the window, Mahony,’ she says. ‘We’ve got something.’
Johnnie collapses, flickering.
Mrs Cauley studies the sheet of paper. ‘Now that’s some class of a hint.’
Johnnie curls up at her feet like a dying beetle. Sometimes twitching out one long limb, sometimes moaning soundlessly.
‘What is it?’ Mahony wades through drifts of papers.
‘It’s a playbill, Mahony.’
He reads her name on it. ‘You were in this play?’
‘I’m right there.’
Mahony looks at the playbill. In the photograph a dark- haired girl stands smiling with her head tilted and her hands on her hips. Johnnie stops twitching and gets up off the floor. He straightens his waistcoat and tries to put his arm around her.
‘That’s you?’
‘That was me.’ She puts her hand up to her head and touches the few white hairs remaining on her naked little head.
Mahony spots her wig, caught on the leg of an upturned hat stand. He brushes it off and hands it to her.
She takes it and smiles, her eyes bright with checked tears. ‘Pour us a drink, kiddo.’

Back in bed with a whiskey, Mrs Cauley watches the dust settle. She sucks at her teeth. ‘Shauna will be hopping. She’ll have to run the broom around the corners. She won’t like that, the idle mare.’
The room is demolished; many of the larger stacks remain standing but the floor is littered with piles of papers and broken books.
Mahony hands the playbill back to her. ‘The Playboy of the Western World, by John Millington Synge.’
‘A great play by a great man,’ Mrs Cauley says, smoothing the edges of the paper gently.
Johnnie smiles at her from the end of the bed.
‘But you’re wondering,’ she murmurs, ‘what this play has to do with our investigation?’
Mahony looks outside. It’s nearly dawn and he’s buckled on the worst kind of whiskey and in no fit state for guessing games. Somewhere in his flittered mind he marvels at Mrs Cauley’s tolerance of cheap liquor, for, apart from the jaunty slant of her wig, she’s as bright as a blackbird.
‘And here it is.’ She taps the playbill on her lap. ‘The St Patrick’s annual fundraising production presents a premium opportunity for the amateur detective.’
Mahony fights a wave of nausea. ‘I don’t get you.’
‘Every man and his mother rolls into town for it – they all come, it’s an event.’
Johnnie gets up and rambles through a knoll of pamphlets to the French doors to watch the sun rise behind the trees. His face is glowing. Mahony has never seen a dead man appear happier.
Mrs Cauley looks thoughtful. ‘First off, we’ll use the auditions to quiz the hell out of them. They’ll be there in droves, lining up ready for a good interrogation.’
Johnnie nods primly and straightens his tie.
‘Then we use the play to flaunt you, kiddo. To keep you right under their noses, in their line of sight,’ says Mrs Cauley, jubilantly. ‘We put you centre stage.’
Johnnie takes a bow.
Mahony stares at her. ‘Ah now – Jaysus, I can’t act.’
‘Think about it, Mahony.’ She leans forward in the bed. ‘It won’t be long before they work out who you are, if some of them haven’t already. You’re the spit of your mother: the same big wounded eyes and damaged little smile.’
Mahony squints at her; he hasn’t the strength to argue.
‘You can only remind them of Orla and, no offence, Orla is the last person this town wants reminding of.’
Mahony nods. ‘Fair enough.’
‘So you parading about on that stage as large as life will wind the bastards right up.’ She pats her quilt gleefully and chuckles. ‘Then we sit back and let them give themselves away. Get them rattled enough and someone’s bound to point the finger.’
‘So I act in the play?’
‘You do. Have you another plan?’
Johnnie twitches his moustache in Mahony’s direction in an attempt at a sympathetic smile.
Mrs Cauley narrows her eyes at Mahony. ‘Are you the kind of cowboy to run from trouble?’ There’s a bad kind of delight in her voice.
Mahony laughs and shakes his head.
‘So let’s ride headlong into town with our guns blazing.’
Mrs Cauley holds out her mug. ‘Set ’em up.’
Mahony reaches forwards and pours out the last of the whiskey, wondering if the feeling will ever return to his fingers.
‘A toast to you, my leading man. And to our investigation.’ Mrs Cauley downs her drink in one, her eyes hardly watering. She grins, wickedly. ‘And to the straight-up joy of getting Mulderrig’s bollocks in a twist.’

By Jess Kidd
Published by Canongate Books (27th October 2016)
ISBN: 978-1782118459

Publisher's description
When Mahony returns to Mulderrig, a speck of a place on Ireland's west coast, he brings only a photograph of his long-lost mother and a determination to do battle with the lies of his past.
No one - living or dead - will tell Mahony what happened to the teenage mother who abandoned him as a baby, despite his certainty that more than one of the villagers knows the sinister truth.

Between Mulderrig's sly priest, its pitiless nurse and the caustic elderly actress throwing herself into her final village play, this beautiful and darkly comic debut novel creates an unforgettable world of mystery, bloody violence and buried secrets.

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