Thursday, 15 November 2018

Changeling by Matt Wesolowski

By Matt Wesolowski
Published by Orenda Books (Ebook - 15 November 2018; Paperback - 15 January 2019)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher’s description
On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.
Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…

My verdict
A missing child, a grieving father, a neglectful alcoholic mother, things that go tap tap tap in the night, local folklore, creepy forests... Plus gripping writing, authentic dialogue, heart-pounding tension and a final twist that I seriously didn’t see coming!

Yes, as you may have guessed, I loved Changeling.

I read this book in around 2.5 hours, unable to tear myself away. Pretty impressive, considering I was going through a major reading slump at the time, unable to find a book to maintain my concentration. It takes a lot for a book to 'scare' me so I don't have a problem reading these books alone at night, when everyone else has gone to bed. But Changeling is very very unsettling, and I found myself gripping the pages tightly as I read - and then jumped when a door banged somewhere in the house.

Changeling explores of the case of seven-year-old Alfie Marsden, who went missing in a forest in 1988, after slipping out, or being taken from, the car while his father investigated a strange tapping sound. The young boy hasn't been seen since, dead or alive.

Changeling is definitely my favourite of the three Six Stories books so far. I'm not sure if that’s down to the emotional subject matter, chilling storyline or overall creepiness of the prose. All three books feel very real, from the array of believable characters to the atmospheric settings. In fact, part of me is convinced that these are genuine cases and genuine podcasts and that Matt Wesolowski has a secret life as a crime podcaster (which means he IS his character).

To explain, if you haven't read a Six Stories book before, all three of the books are written in a unique format - six podcasts hosted by elusive online journalist Scott King who is exploring cold cases. The podcasts are all very dark, highly thought-provoking and intriguing, as each new character reveals snippets of information about the case, building the tension, intensifying the suspense and layering the mystery at the heart of the story.

You could easily read Changeling as a stand-alone. But I would recommend reading all three books anyway. They’re all brilliant, very different despite following the same format and prove that Matt Weselowski is one of the best emerging horror/crime writers in the present day.

Bring on the next one! (I hope there is a next one...)

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Somewhere Beyond the Sea by Miranda Dickinson

Somewhere Beyond the Sea
By Miranda Dickinson
Published by Pan (14 June 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
Can you fall in love with someone before you’ve even met?
Seren MacArthur is living a life she never intended. Trying to save the Cornish seaside business her late father built – while grieving for his loss – she has put her own dreams on hold and is struggling. Until she discovers a half-finished seaglass star on her favourite beach during an early morning walk. When she completes the star, she sets into motion a chain of events that will steal her heart and challenge everything she believes.
Jack Dixon is trying to secure a better life for daughter Nessie and himself. Left a widower and homeless when his wife died, he’s just about keeping their heads above water. Finding seaglass stars completed on Gwithian beach is a bright spark that slowly rekindles his hope.
Seren and Jack are searching for their missing pieces. But when they meet in real life, it’s on the opposing sides of a battle. Jack is managing the redevelopment of a local landmark, and Seren is leading the community campaign to save it.
Both have reason to fight – Seren for the cause her father believed in, Jack for his livelihood. But only one can win. With so much at stake, will they ever find what they are really looking for?

My verdict
Somewhere Beyond the Sea was as magical and sparkly as the seaglass that features heavily within the story.

This is a book about family and grief, love and friendship, with a strong heartwarming 'feel good' focus. It provided me with a much-needed break from my usual crime fiction reads at the time. It's sad and moving yet also uplifting and hopeful - a sweet and poignant read that reminded me of a Meg Ryan film, a cross between You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle.

I loved the Cornish setting, and author Miranda Dickinson really brings the location and characters to life with her vivid descriptions. Jack and Seren narrate alternative chapters so I got to know both of them very well, which meant I then cared strongly about the story. I could almost smell the sea and hear the waves, as I imagined myself walking along the beaches in search of seaglass stars.

A perfect book for cold evenings snuggled under a blanket (with a glass of wine and box of chocolates). And yes, it made me shed a few tears by the end!

Monday, 12 November 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Merle Nygate

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 ...

John le Carré – he can’t be beaten. Graham Greene and Len Deighton.  Can I have all three?
I’m not at all sure I can choose between them. They span the Cold War which fascinates me even though my novel, The Righteous Spy is contemporary. I suppose my fascination with the Cold War goes back to school.  When I was 15 we learnt about the Berlin Wall; the idea that there was a wall in the middle of a city and that half the city was associated with a different country was so ridiculous that I thought I must have misunderstood what the teacher was saying.

At the moment my favourite film is Imperium.  I watched it recently and thought Daniel Radcliffe as FBI undercover agent, Nat Foster was remarkable. Radcliffe plays both an American nerdy FBI agent and a convincing supremacist when his character infiltrates far right groups.  It’s a very human piece showing the different sides’ vulnerabilities.  Based on an account written by an FBI agent it has the literary ring of truth.  On reflection, the film would probably have worked better as TV.

The Wire is the best TV show I’ve ever seen. I watch it every few years and each time I notice something new.  Again, this is a well-researched piece. David Simon wrote a book called Homicide, A Year on the Killing Streets.  David Simon knows this world as a former journalist and it is a brilliant series full of psychological insight and nuance, not to mention terrific drama; think Shakespeare. It’s best to watch it with subtitles because the slang is difficult to understand until you get into it. 

Dix in Dorothy M Hughes’ In a Lonely Place.  Although Dix is pretty creepy, this book and the author were a discovery for me when I did my MA in Crime Fiction at UEA. The title was on the reading list and before then I’d never heard of Hughes.  Dix is a psychopath who stalks women in Los Angeles. He’s not unlike Ripley in Highsmith’s books but Dix stalking the swirling mists of post war Los Angeles is brilliantly realised. 

My abiding fondness for Sherlock Holmes is because he was the first detective I ever read and the stories still work.  I love Holme’s analytical and deductive skills and there’s some of that in Petra; one of the characters in The Righteous Spy.  What’s more, when it came out, the TV adaptation with Jeremy Brett was the highlight of the viewing week and it was the best TV ever. 

Bernard Samson is a great spy.  He’s in the nine-book series by Len Deighton that starts with Berlin Game. Like The Wire, it’s a series I re-read every few years. Samson is an outsider in MI6 and he is wonderfully irreverent.  He has a great sense of humour which I think is an important attribute for a spy and he’s his own man. 

Opiates would be my favourite weapon because I am a wimp when it comes to pain and opiates are said to be about as painless a murder weapon as possible. 

Alex Leamus and Liz Gold at The Berlin Wall in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.  I like it because the entire way through the book I was expecting them to survive, to get over the wall – and then they don’t. It’s such a vivid scene and so tragic but it is the only possible ending.

The CIA website is packed with ideas for spy writers.  I came across the website when I was researching The Righteous Spy and desperately looking for a potential story. By that stage, I’d written about nine outlines for various ideas and none of them were convincing and they seemed derivative which they were, being based on other spy stories. On the CIA website I came across a review for a non-fiction book called Gideon’s Spies by Gordon Thomas.  It was described as the inside story of Mossad and included interviews with former directors and intelligence officers. This book was the turning point for me. I close read, marked it up, made detailed notes and extrapolated the information I needed for a second document.  From that document I brainstormed and identified the various different types of true espionage stories.  For example, there seem to be different types of assassinations; revenge assassinations in the aftermath of terrorist attacks; strategic assassinations to kill enemy nuclear scientists; liaison assassinations where Mossad may kill on behalf of another intelligence service; warning assassinations when an arms dealer is wounded or killed as a warning to other arms dealers.  There were also disinformation and recruitment operations that had rich fictional possibilities and, of course, the ubiquitous, ‘find the mole’ story. 
From the list of documented operations, I brainstormed 13 different one-sentence scenarios before narrowing them down to the ideas that eventually became The Righteous Spy.
My other favourite website is The National Archives. It’s another treasure trove of stories and the bookshop is a great source of non-fiction spy books.

Decide your theme and develop your characters before you hit the page.  That’s my process which I wouldn’t want to impose on anyone else, but it works for me. Although I didn’t have a story until I did the research, I knew that I wanted to write about good people doing bad things.  For me knowing the theme of a story is like a compass, or maybe a torch in the dark; it gives me something to get back to and shows me the way ahead if I get lost. So, I always start a piece of work asking myself the ‘What’s it about?’ question.  The second stage is understanding the characters, who they are and what they want. 

Apples, nuts and a lot of water.  Chocolate and coffee for short bursts.  From time to time the chocolate and coffee habit can get somewhat out of control!

Merle Nygate is a screenwriter, script editor, screenwriting lecturer and novelist; she’s worked on BAFTA winning TV, New York Festival audio drama and written original sitcoms; previously she worked for BBC Comedy Commissioning as well as writing and script editing across multiple genres. Most recently, Merle completed her first espionage novel which won the Little Brown/UEA Crime Fiction Award. It was described by the judge as 'outstanding’. If you are intrigued about her background check out her website

Find Merle Negate on her website and on Twitter - @MerleNygate


Publisher's description
Eli Amiran is Mossad’s star spy runner and the man responsible for bringing unparalleled intelligence to the Israeli agency. Now, he’s leading an audacious operation in the UK that feeds his ambition but threatens his conscience. 
The British and the Americans have intel Mossad desperately need. To force MI6 and the CIA into sharing their priceless information, Eli and his maverick colleague Rafi undertake a risky mission to trick their allies: faking a terrorist plot on British soil. 
But in the world of espionage, the game is treacherous, opaque and deadly... 

The Righteous Spy was published by Verve Books on 18 October 2018.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Friday, 9 November 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Will Carver

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 his Good Samaritans blog tour

to share his BEST OF CRIME ...

I’m playing catch-up on a lot of the recent crop of crime writers but I loved Simone Buchholtz’s Blue Night. My first toe in the water came from Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley and that has (obviously) been a tough act to follow. I really enjoyed David Jackson’s Callum Doyle series - Pariah, Marked, The Helper. They were wonderfully quirky and funny and smart. I look forward to reading Don’t Make A Sound. But, for me, the best is Sarah Pinborough. I think she probably throws away ideas that are better than most of the things out there. And she can write anything. Crime, horror, erotic fairytales… I enjoy the fact that they are different. Crime plus weird. Behind Her Eyes was a deserved and long overdue hit but if you haven’t read them, you should go back and try The Death House, The Language of Dying and her Dog-Faced Gods trilogy.

When I think of the crime films I like they are very different to the crime that I write. I like American gangster movies like The Godfather or Mean Streets, and any kind of courtroom drama. I don’t think I could write something like that but I love to watch them. For some reason, the first film that came into my head was Primal Fear. And I think it was even better because the first time I watched it, I had no idea about the twist at the end. I would’ve been looking out for that all the way through and it would have tainted the viewing. It was a real sucker punch because I usually guess these things.

This took me no time to consider. X-Files. Great writing - the best coming from Carter and Spotnitz. People often say that they liked the first season and then it started to get ridiculous. That’s usually when I start swearing at them. That first season was a worldwide phenomenon - and rightly so. It was scary and thought-provoking and funny and tense. It had everything. One-off comedy episodes and procedural episodes. But it was all the mythology episodes that kept me hooked, the governmental conspiracies and just what happened to Samantha Mulder. For six years, each new season was better than the last. I remember watching all of season six in one day, on video. It’s the best one. It has the two-part Dreamland story and the Two Fathers/One Son double-hitter. Amazing. (Think I could name almost every episode off the top of my head.) And the characters were iconic. Mulder. Scully. Deepthroat. X. Lone Gunmen. Cigarette Smoking Man. Krycek. Skinner. Eugene Tooms. Then they bring in John Doggett to replace the missing Mulder in season eight. And you think you’ll hate him and it’s going to be rubbish. But he’s brilliant in a totally different way and you still love the show. And Scully is better, too. I think there’s something for every kind of crime fan in this show and the level of writing never lessens, even if season nine turned out to be a heartbreaking anti-climax. But that is being rectified with the new episodes.

It’s hard to decide between my two favourites. Patrick Bateman and Hannibal Lecter. There is something so compelling about a pure psychopath. That complete lack of empathy and guilt. That they have a way of forming a relationship - often adversarial - but you know they would kill that person they seemingly respect without thinking about it. But what I like about these is that they are so unapologetically psychotic but they are also suave and smart and, though you know you shouldn’t, you kind of like them and maybe even want them to get away with it. It messes with your head. That’s why they are the best.

Part of me doesn’t want to say Sherlock Holmes because it seems too obvious. But I like him for many of the same reasons that I like Bateman or Lecter. He’s the smartest and he knows he is. He can be mean and tactless but you still like him. The books are great, the TV show is great and the films are pretty good, too. It comes from the writing, of course, but it is the character that makes it. 
Still, I’d have to put him in second place behind the unforgettable Dale Cooper. He’s intelligent and individual and unorthodox. To stand out as a bit weird in a place like Twin Peaks is not easy. It’s his heart and morals that draw you into the character, though. He’s the outsider, the city guy drawn into a country town with a seedy underbelly. And he embraces the community. He talks to the Log Lady like she’s anybody else in the world. That’s what makes the final minute of the show what it is. It’s Dale Cooper and how much we are all routing for him.

There’s an episode of X-Files called Soft Light. A scientist is caught up in a freak accident while experimenting and anyone who comes into contact with his shadow dematerialises. He doesn’t want to kill anyone but he can’t help it. A unique murder weapon, I’d say.

The opening of the French film Irreversible is a chaotic spiral of a journey that ends with some guy getting beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. It all looks like it’s done in one shot. But the brutality of the way his face is crushed is just horrifying. 
But the scene that lived with me is from American History X. And you don’t even see the victim die. Derek Vinyard - played by Edward Norton, who should’ve won the Oscar that year, despite Roberto Benigni’s excellent performance in Life is Beautiful - catches someone trying to rob his house. He takes him down to the road, at gunpoint, forces him to the floor and instructs him to, ‘Put your fucking teeth on the kerb’. Then you see him lift his foot above the burglar’s head and you hear the burglar’s teeth scraping against the kerb, and then it cuts to black as Vinyard starts to bring his foot down. It will haunt you. Utterly horrifying and angry and brutal. I watched that film six times at the cinema… Nothing has come close to that death scene. 
And then I saw Vince Vaughn in Brawl in Cell Block 99 and there are about twelve deaths that are equal to or worse than either of the ones I have mentioned. It was not the film I was expecting at all.

A couple of books ago I fell down a rabbit hole when I found a website where you could read police interview transcripts and listen to interview tapes. But now, I use YouTube as one of my main research aids. (When starting a new idea.) It’s great to pick up soundbites and old interviews or news pieces. If you want to know about serial killers, you can get lost in some of the clips they have. What I love most is that you can get hold of things that aren’t on DVD or iTunes or whatever. They might be old or were never popular or were made on a low budget so even back when they were made you had to search for them. 
Recently I’ve watched a 9-hour documentary on the siege at Waco. I’ve done a couple of hours delving into the Jonestown massacre. I watched 12 minutes of interviews from former members of Heaven’s Gate. And that’s before you find all the spin-offs. I think it’s a wonderfully varied and accessible way to build up an understanding of something. I’ve been using it to get a feel for my latest book, while developing an idea of the motivation behind the central character. 
I wouldn’t suggest writing an entire book based on what you find on YouTube but it’s a valuable online resource when starting out with an idea and you’ll quickly get to know whether you want to pursue it any further.

Ignore writing tips. 
I start writing at midnight. Don’t do that. It’s shit. Unless it works for you because you can’t sleep and the idea of getting up at 6am to hammer out word fills you with dread. 
I edit as I go along. Don’t do that. It’s stupid. It breaks up the flow. Unless that works for you because you hate editing a book once it’s written and you want your first draft to be as close as possible to the final draft. I’d rather tidy up 2,000 words of mess at a time than wade through 90,000 words just because I had to get an idea down. 
Some writers plot every chapter and some put more focus into character. 
Some people think NaNoWriMo is a great idea and others think that style is horse shit. 
Find what works for you.
If you look after twins all day and get no respite until 6pm, it doesn’t matter if you’re a morning person, you’ll probably have to become a night writer. Even though you’re shattered. 
If you want to smash out a book in a month, you are not going to be an edit-along-the-way kinda writer. So don’t do it. Don’t be half-arsed because it will come across in your writing. 
Write what excites you. If it turns you on to write about vampires fucking and sucking each other’s necks, do it. If you love drilling down into the minute procedures of a police investigation, do it. And do it with vigour. Because the reader can (usually) tell. 
One tip that I think is worthwhile is don’t ask for feedback from somebody who loves you. It’s so unfair to put that pressure on them. And your parent/sibling/partner is never going to tell you that you’re rubbish and you shouldn’t ask them to. Find someone who will tell you the truth. Stephen King doesn’t type ‘The End’ and the book goes to print, he needs somebody to tell him the parts that are crap. And then he has to fix them. 
My parting words, my writing tip: Do something else. If you can. Anything else. Because it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not what you think. Last year Good Samaritans was getting rejected for being too dark or not literary enough or not having a strong female character(?) and I was sat at home selling my computer on eBay so that I could afford some lentils. Don’t that. It’s crazy. 
Unless that works for you. Because you’re not scared by that idea. Then, as Hemingway said, you need to ‘Sit at that typewriter (laptop) and bleed’.

I write so late that this isn’t really a thing for me. I can’t have coffee at that time so I tend to have water or whisky. And I’ll try to not eat or only have fruit because I’ve done all my eating for the day. People who stay up late tend to consume 500 more calories per day than those who got to bed at a ‘normal’ time. So be careful if you enjoy cake or biscuits while you are writing, if you’re a night owl. Writer’s arse is a real thing.

Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series (Arrow). He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK at age 11, when his sporting career took off. He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company.
He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, while working on his next thriller. He lives in Reading with his two children. 

Find will Carver on his Facebook page and on Twitter - @will_carver


Publisher's description
One crossed wire, three dead bodies and six bottles of bleach 
Seth Beauman can’t sleep. He stays up late, calling strangers from his 
phonebook, hoping to make a connection, while his wife, Maeve, sleeps upstairs. A crossed wire finds a suicidal Hadley Serf on the phone to Seth, thinking she is talking to The Samaritans.
But a seemingly harmless, late-night hobby turns into something more for Seth and for Hadley, and soon their late-night talks are turning into day-time meet-ups. And then this dysfunctional love story turns into something altogether darker, when Seth brings Hadley home... And someone is watching...

Read a snippet of my review
'Good Samaritans is sexy, dark, explicit and graphic in places, so certainly not for the fainthearted. It's twisty and twisted too... I loved this book and will happily shout about it from the rooftops!'

To read the rest of my review, click here.

Good Samaritans is being published by Orenda Books in paperback on 15 November 2018 - out now in ebook!

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Follow the Blog Tour!

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Jenny Blackhurst

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 ...

Sophie Hannah. She’s an incredibly clever writer with an acute observational talent. Her books are like reading a social commentary wrapped in a twisty mystery with a sprinkle of comedy. The proudest moment of my career was when my quote was included on the hardback of Did You See Melody? It was on the back but still, pretty cool.

Se7enA killer uses the seven deadly sins against his victims, sounds like just another serial killer thriller but there’s a wicked twist and some beautiful use of character. What’s in the box?

Broadchurch. Aside from the David Tennant factor, Broadchurch was one of the nation’s biggest water cooler TV dramas in years. I loved it for the tight, claustrophobic feeling for the small town where everyone has something to hide. It’s not even a particularly original theme, young boy is killed… whodunnit, but an amazing cast and perfect setting set it apart from the rest. 

Gretchen Lowell. A beautiful but deadly serial killer who manages to infiltrate the investigation looking for her and make the lead detective fall madly in lust with her. If it wasn’t for the killing people aspect I’d totally want to be her. 

Dr Gideon Fell. I feel like Dr Fell is one of the most underestimated detectives in fiction. Although I’m cheating a little here – he’s not a real detective in the sense that he works for the police force but then again neither was Sherlock Holmes, was he? Gideon Fell has all the ingenuity of Mr Holmes, just without the recognition. 

Umbrella spike. I picture a debonair killer in a smoking jacket, played by Tom Hardy, killing people with a very sharp ended black umbrella. Perhaps there would be a scene where it rains and he has to use the umbrella, rain washing droplets of blood onto the street and swirling into the drain.

Any from a Saw movie. Or at least the two inches of screen I could see through my fingers. I love those films, and the murder scenes are always ingenious.

... BLOGS/WEBSITES great videos on Chris’ website on how to plot, how to increase productivity etc – also love his books, 5,000 words an hour and Lifelong Writing Habit. 

Don’t try to write on an empty stomach. You’ll only have to get up twenty minutes in for crumpets. Best to keep a drawer full of snacks and a thermos of hot chocolate on your desk. Like the Girl Guides say – Be Prepared. 

Crumpets. With oodles of melted butter oozing from the squishy holes. Maybe some cheese melted on top. And caramelized onion chutney… Excuse me… I have to go.

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children. Growing up she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels - writing her own seemed like natural progression. The Night She Died is Jenny's fourth novel. 

Find Jenny Blackhurst on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @JennyBlackhurst


Publisher's description
On her own wedding night, beautiful and complicated Evie White leaps off a cliff to her death. 
What drove her to commit this terrible act? It's left to her best friend and her husband to unravel the sinister mystery. 
Following a twisted trail of clues leading to Evie's darkest secrets, they begin to realize they never knew the real Evie at all... 

The Night She Died was published in paperback by Headline on 1 November 2018.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

The Anomaly
By Michael Rutger
Published by Bonnier Zaffre (12 July 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
A team of explorers seek ancient treasures, hidden in a secret cave.
At first it seems they will return empty handed. Then their luck turns.
But the team's elation is short-lived as they become trapped there in the dark, with little possibility of escape.
Then events take an even more terrifying turn.
For not all secrets are meant to be found . . .

My verdict
The Anomaly is a modern day Indiana Jones with its nail-biting rollercoaster storyline and action scenes that gave me palpitations.

This archaeological thriller contains a combination of science, history, mythology and religion. It provides a mix of horror, action, sci fi and the bizarre, reminding me of the Fortean Times, Fringe and The X-Files, with their stories of the unexplained. The plot didn't feel particularly credible but it certainly felt very real, with its atmospheric, creepy and claustrophobic setting and a host of believable characters. The cavern was so well described (using all five senses) that I could picture it in my head while I was reading and felt as if I was there too.

The horror in The Anomaly builds up gradually after a slightly slow start. Looking back, I realise this added to the tension and suspense - I knew disaster was going to strike (it always does in these books), but I had no idea when. And when it did, it hit hard, like reading the script of an action movie with an explosive climax. Eventually, the writing became so fast paced and energetic that I found myself having to slow down my reading pace, ignoring that my inner self was desperate to know what was going to happen next.

The Anomaly is a high-octane journey into the unknown. It's a great action thriller and provided me with perfect escapism for a few hours. But maybe don't read it if you're afraid of the dark or enclosed spaces!

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Ali Knight

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 ...

Barbara Vine. Ruth Rendell took her writing in a new direction away from detective fiction in her series of novels writing as Barbara Vine. Really good books remain timeless, and even though some of her psychological thrillers – exploring the why of a crime rather than the who -  were written more than thirty years ago, they feel modern and up to date. A Fatal Inversion, about a group of young people staying at a country house over one long hot summer, is particularly fine. 

Black Widow. This 1987 film starring Debra Winger and Theresa Russell was way ahead of its time. It is so rare to find a film where the two leads are women, and this cat and mouse game, where detective Winger is trying to convince her superiors that Russell is repeatedly killing her husbands for their money, is the original Killing Eve.

Prime Suspect – I worry there’s a theme here – everything I’ve picked so far is decades old! But it is impossible to underestimate how groundbreaking DCI Jane Tennyson was as a character on TV in the  first series in 1991. Impeccably and elegantly plotted, it dealt with sexism  and corruption in the police.  
To show that I also like contemporary crime, I’m very impressed with Ozark. Less violent than Breaking Bad, it shows the ripple effect of the illegal drugs trade and makes the viewer realise that the money laundering end of the business has been under-represented in the endless crime dramas that revolve around drugs.

Amy Dunne in Gone Girl. She is a real game changer. The best killers are the ones that get away with it. And we know she is never going to get caught.

I’m a fan of Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar, mainly because he’s a former sports pro and in an alternate universe I would have loved to have been fantastically good at tennis. His ruminations on life after peak physical fitness and fame are touching. It’s hard to beat Jack Reacher for pure, unadulterated reading entertainment.

Stephen King’s use of a sit-on lawnmower to kill a policeman in Misery is genius.

Dying in an Afghan hut after being injected with smallpox as Terry Hayes created in I Am Pilgrim takes some beating.

Google Maps’ feature where you can walk down roads and actually see them is pure genius for the writer. I was immensely entertained by a Quora internet thread on how to dispose of a dead body. People have really thought about this stuff. 

Keep going. There is no other way. And it is difficult. Anyone who says writing is easy is a liar.

Don’t. Otherwise there would be no room for lunch.

Ali Knight has written five crime novels. Her books have been translated into 12 languages and sold as TV scripts. Her debut novel, Wink Murder, was an Independent Book of the Year in 2011.

Find Ali Knight on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @aliknightauthor

About Before I Find You

Publisher's description
Maggie is a husband watcher.  A snooper, a marriage doctor, a killer of happy-ever-afters. She runs her own private detective agency specialising in catching out those who cheat. And she's very good at it. Until Helene walks through her door.
Helene is a husband catcher. A beautiful wife, a doting stepmother, a dazzling presence at parties. She counts herself lucky to have married one of the most eligible men in town - Gabe Moreau. Until she sees something that threatens her little family of three.
Alice is a perfect daughter. Apple of her father's eye, a kind stepchild to Helene, a tragic daughter of a dead mother. She lives a sheltered but happy life. Until she finds a handwritten note on her father's desk: 'You owe me. I'm not going away.'
All three women suspect Gabe Moreau of keeping secrets and telling lies. But not one of them suspects that the truth could result in murder . . .

Before I Find You is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 1 November 2018.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Researching fiction versus non-fiction by Gill Paul

I am delighted to welcome Gill Paul to Off-the-Shelf Books today. The Lost Daughter was published by Headline Review on 18 October 2018.

Researching fiction versus non-fiction
By Gill Paul

Research is one of my favourite bits of my job. It means I get to sit and read books all day. What’s not to like? I’ve developed a habit of using torn bits of Post-It notes to mark facts I might want to use, so my books end up looking like scruffy yellow hedgehogs.

I write historical novels and historical non-fiction, and the research process is quite different for each. With non-fiction I need to understand the big events: the nature of the political regime in power, the root causes of wars and famines, the movers and shakers of the day. With fiction, on the other hand, I need to know the tiny details: what kind of aspirin they took for a headache, where they did their grocery shopping and what style of clothes they wore.

I usually narrate my novels from one or two characters’ points of view, so this means I can only include information that those characters would reasonably have known. In The Lost Daughter, the characters know nothing about the power struggles in Russian politics between Kerensky and Lenin, Lenin and Trotsky, then Stalin and just about everyone else. What I needed to find out in my research was what it was like to live under those regimes: the fact that country people who came to town during the 1921–22 famine were known disparagingly as lapti after the birch bark shoes they wore; that women queued for food coupons at separate offices – one for meat, one for vegetables, one for bread; and that soap ran out completely in the early 1920s. When writing about the siege of Leningrad, I couldn’t give the total numbers who died, because my characters wouldn’t have known that, but I could describe the eerie metronome sound that was broadcast from loudspeakers on street corners, punctuating their days.

It will probably make me sound nerdy, but I get very excited when I come across a new detail that I know will fit my narrative. I don’t want to load it down, but just the odd snippet here and there helps to create a sense of authenticity. The quirkier, the better!

I have the kind of readers who let me know when I get things wrong. In The Affair, I had my heroine, Diana, wearing tights in 1962 and I was devastated when someone who was clearly an expert emailed to tell me that although they were commonly worn in America then, they did not reach British shores till 1963, so Diana would have been in stockings and a suspender belt. Gah! I’ve also had dozens of emails telling me I got the name of the lake wrong in The Secret Wife – I called it Lake Akanabee and it’s Lake Abanakee – a simple error of transcription that was never picked up. These things are intensely irritating! I do a lot of fact-checking myself, and I’ll find experts to check specific areas on which I am clueless – like Russian Orthodox religion and military ranks – but some tiny things can always slip through the net.

Of course, it’s fiction, so I could make it up if I wanted to. I tend to tinker with the bigger picture – like letting a Romanov daughter escape from Ekaterinburg – while trying to get the details spot on. In non-fiction, absolutely everything has to be true and that means the writing process is slower, because I can’t slip off into a chunk of made-up dialogue. I might manage to write 1,500 words a day in a novel, but it would probably be under 1,000 in non-fiction.

There are similarities, though. Both fiction and non-fiction need a narrative drive, something that makes you want to keep turning the pages. Both need a writing style that suits the subject matter. And I would argue that both need to be emotionally engaging. 

Which do I prefer writing? Both are rewarding but if you forced me to answer, with my arm twisted up my back, I’d say fiction every time.

About Gill Paul 
Gill Paul is a Scottish-born, London-based writer of historical fiction and non-fiction. Her novels include The Lost Daughter, about the Romanov royal family, Another Woman’s Husband, about Wallis Simpson and Princess Dianathe USA Today bestseller The Secret WifeWomen and Children First, a novel set on the Titanic which was short­listed for an RNA Award, The Affair and No Place for a Lady, which was shortlisted for a Love Stories Award. Her non-fiction includes A History of Medicine in 50 ObjectsWorld War I Love Stories and Royal Love Stories. Gill lives in London, where, as well as writing full-time, she enjoys swimming year-round in an outdoor pond.

Find Gill Paul on her website, on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @GillPaulAUTHOR

About The Lost Daughter 

The Lost Daughter
By Gill Paul
Published by Headline Review (18 October 2018) 

Publisher's description
A Russian princess. An extraordinary sacrifice. A captivating secret... 
From the author of The Secret Wife, a gripping journey through decades and across continents, of love, devastating loss and courage against all odds.
With the country they once ruled turned against them, the future of Russia's imperial family hangs in the balance. When middle daughter Maria Romanova captivates two of the guards, it will lead to a fateful choice between right and wrong.
Fifty-five years later . . .
Val rushes to her father's side when she hears of his troubling end-of-life confession: 'I didn't want to kill her.' As she unravels the secrets behind her mother's disappearance when she was twelve years old, she finds herself caught up in one of the world's greatest mysteries.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Mel Sherratt

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 her Hush Hush blog tour

to share her BEST OF CRIME ...

At the moment, it’s Cara Hunter. She has two books out in a series, and a third on its way that I have read too, as an early copy. She writes police procedurals. I find her style so energetic, raw and her storylines and plots so fast and furious that I can’t turn the pages quick enough. Her main character, DI Adam Fawley, reminds me so much of David Tennant in Broadchurch that I almost imagine it is him as I read.

Seven is one of my all-time favourites as I find it so cleverly plotted, dark and disgusting and yet compelling at the same time. Morgan Freeman is one of my favourite actors too. 

The first time I watched it, I had no idea what was going on, and then when it all became clear, I thought it was so clever. So much so that I used the same method for one of my novels – can’t tell you which one though!

Line of Duty. Although there is a huge amount of poetic license in the procedural element of the plot that has me shouting at the TV a fair amount of times, this is a show that is built on fantastic recurring characters, and a sense of being right there in the room in the investigation with them. I remember one scene being in the interview room for the whole hour and it was so tense. I was sitting on the edge of my seat. Vicky McClure is one of my favourite actresses too.

Bonnie and Clyde. A love story within with the violence. 

I thoroughly enjoy the lead detectives in the series Unforgotten. Nicola Walker is a terrific actress and with her DI, I just love their ‘ordinariness.’ I pride myself in keeping my characters as ordinary as possible. They may have colourful backgrounds but they are nice to their colleagues and families. I like that sense of normality. As well, the emotion they bring to each show and then the ability to flip that to a one line of humour is great writing.  

That would have to be death by chocolate…

It has to be the shoot out at the end of Enemy of the State, where Will Smith is playing one crime family against another. The way he plays them both is just genius, and I love how he comes out of it after climbing under the table to hide. 

Research for my novels is so varied that there is never the one, and always a few new ones with each subject I tackle. I tend to buy a lot of non-fiction books on each subject I write about too. 

I use a Twitter hashtag #keeponkeepingon so I guess that would be my writing tip. It’s so easy to get carried away in the first few happy chapters as we get to know our characters. Then comes the middle muddle and often that’s where writers stop because they have lost the momentum, and the faith to see it through to the end. My advice would be to carry on – write a ‘dirty’ first draft that no one will see. Once the words are down, they can always be edited. No one can edit a blank page. 

Coffee and a biscuit. Any biscuit will do, but cake is much better. 

Mel Sherratt is the author of ten novels, all of which have become bestsellers. In 2017, she was named as one of her home town of Stoke-on-Trent’s top 100 influential people.
She lives in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, with her husband and terrier, Dexter.

Find Mel Sherratt on her website, on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @writermels


Publisher's description
A killer is on the loose, attacking people in places they feel most safe: their workplaces, their homes. It’s up to DS Grace Allendale to stop the murders, and prove herself to her new team.
All clues lead to local crime family the Steeles, but that’s where things get complicated. Because the Steeles aren’t just any family, they’re Grace’s family. Two brothers and two sisters, connected by the violent father only Grace and her mother escaped.
To catch the killer, Grace will have to choose between her team and her blood. But who do you trust, when both sides are out to get you?

Hush Hush was published by Avon in paperback on 18 October 2018.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

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