Friday, 31 March 2017

Hampstead Fever by Carol Cooper

Hampstead Fever
By Carol Cooper
Published by Hardwick Press (30 June 2016)
ISBN: 978-0995451407

Publisher's description
Ex-con Dan has it all. The perfect job and a new baby with his dream woman. So why is he still an outsider?
Laure had baby Jack late in life. It’s only natural she’s a little over-protective. Motherhood is terrifying.
After surviving serious illness, Sanjay’s got his life back. Now he wants adventure. Where does that leave girlfriend Harriet?
Karen’s love life is reduced to casual sex with the football coach. As a divorcee with four kids, romance is on her to-do list, just below the laundry.
Doctor Geoff’s relationship with actress Daisy is bound to be a bit dramatic. But why all the mystery?

My verdict
Hampstead Fever is a highly enjoyable read, with good writing and well-developed varied characters. I haven't read One Night at the Jacaranda, an earlier book that featured many of the same characters, and this was easy to read as a standalone.

In Hampstead Fever, several strands are intertwined, linking the love lives of key characters together. Each chapter focuses on one particular character's relationships, but other characters drifted in and out with ease. For this reason, the book reminded me of the film Love Actually.

I loved the underlying medical theme with its dark humour - a few important health messages snuck in there, which isn't surprising as the author is a GP. Be warned that there's lots of sex, slightly raunchy in places, so maybe it's not for those who prefer their fiction to be clean and cosy. I enjoyed the setting too, as I know Hampstead and the surrounding areas well - and there are several familiar London landmarks and locations.

Hampstead Fever isn't my usual genre, as I read mainly crime fiction. But this certainly made a welcome change. It's fantastic that it's been picked for a WHSmith promotion that's running over Easter - available at 30 of their bookstores at airports and railway stations on a buy one, get one half price offer. Make sure you grab it!

I received a copy from the author.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

BEST OF CRIME with Jane Casey

Welcome to my 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... 


I’m going to pick Ngaio Marsh just because I think she’s often overlooked. She wrote the most sinister plots and characters – Singing in the Shrouds is a truly creepy serial killer novel. And I adore her detective, Roderick Alleyn, who has a sense of humour along with impeccable dignity, intelligence and determination. He’s one of the more believable Golden Age detectives.

Witness for the Prosecution (the Billy Wilder version from 1957). I first watched it when I was about twelve, I think on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I still remember my sense of absolute shock and awe at the ending! 

I think The Bridge has altered the landscape of TV crime dramas. Saga Noren is one of the great TV detectives and Sofia Helin plays her with total conviction.

This is a hard one to answer without spoilers! Of the killers who announce themselves as killers from the off, it’s hard to beat Hannibal Lecter. He is iconic. As far as I know he’s now been played by four different actors – Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, Gaspard Ulliel and Mads Mikkelsen – and each of them have interpreted him in different ways. Like Dracula, he is developing a mythology that extends far beyond the original books. 

Lord Peter Wimsey, by a mile. He’s charming and debonair, of course, but he’s also psychologically complex and an ex-soldier who never backed away from a fight. Sayers hints at how physically capable he is – something I think they’ve never really brought out in any of the TV adaptations.  

I adore really clever murder weapons but realistically most murders aren’t committed with daggers made of ice that melt away without a trace . . . I do love Roald Dahl’s clever little story ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ which has one of the best and most mundane murder weapons imaginable. 

The prologue in P D James’s Devices and Desires was one of the pieces of writing that made me want to be a crime writer. A young girl leaves a disco too late to catch her bus home and becomes the fourth victim of a serial killer. It’s a masterclass in building tension, skillful exposition and a terrifying revelation at the end. There’s nothing graphic about it, but it’s incredibly effective.

I use Google Maps a huge amount when I’m writing – it’s not a substitute for field trips but it really helps to rough in details when you’re working on a first draft and you don’t want to take a day off to look around an area. I love well written true crime and the success of the podcast Serial made long-form writing about crime fashionable again. But inspiration can come from all sorts of places. I found an idea for a story from a picture on Pinterest! 

Set a time limit rather than a word count to achieve for the day; it’s kinder, because we all have days where the writing is hard, and it’s manageable. You can always stay for longer if the work is going well! And finish what you start. Half a book won’t teach you anything about crafting a plot or developing your characters – write the whole thing and work on it, even for experience. I wrote my first book, The Missing, with the hope of getting an agent and not much more but it ended up changing my life. 

Cheese and apples. I think every book so far has required enormous consumption of both. Plus coffee, of course …

About Jane Casey
Jane Casey is an Irish crime writer who has written eleven crime novels - eight for adults and three for teenagers. Her books have been bestsellers and she has won several awards, including Irish Crime Novel of the Year for After the Fire in 2015. Her latest novel, Let the Dead Speak, is the seventh to feature Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan. She lives in London.

Find Jane Casey on Twitter - @JaneCaseyAuthor

About Let the Dead Speak

Publisher's description
A murder without a body
Eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home one day to find the house covered in blood and Kate, her mother, gone. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder.
A girl too scared to talk
Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant. She suspects Chloe is holding something back, but best friend Bethany Norris won’t let Maeve get close. What exactly is Bethany protecting Chloe from?
A detective with everything to prove

As the team dig deeper into the residents of Valerian Road, no one is above suspicion. All Maeve needs is one person to talk, but that’s not going to happen. Because even in a case of murder, some secrets are too terrible to share…

Let the Dead Speak was published by Harper Collins on 9 March 2017.

LOVE this series!!

Read my review of Let the Dead Speak here

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Boundary by Andrée A. Michaud - Blog Tour review

I am delighted to be today's stop on the Boundary blog tour. Boundary by Andrée A. Michaud was published on 23 March 2017 by No Exit Press.

By Andrée A. Michaud
Published by No Exit Press (23 March 2017)
ISBN: 978-1843449980

Publisher's description
It's the Summer of 1967. The sun shines brightly over Boundary Pond, a holiday haven on the US-Canadian border. Families relax in the heat, happy and carefree. Hours tick away to the sound of radios playing 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' and 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'. Children run along the beach as the heady smell of barbecues fills the air.
Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, with their long, tanned legs and silky hair, relish their growing reputation as the red and blonde Lolitas. Life seems idyllic.

But then Zaza disappears, and the skies begin to cloud over...

My verdict
Boundary is a slow burning literary crime novel set on the border between the US and Canada in 1967.

Driving the book is the death of two teenage girls in a holiday town that's popular with families. These best friends were on the cusp of womanhood, often mistaken for twins, enjoying their freedom and flirting with the boys and men. This idyllic setting seemed like a safe place for women and children over the summer months, their husbands returning every weekend after their working week. But the summer of sunshine and laughter turned to one of fear, distrust and paranoia, as the darkness of death descended on the community.

The narrative assesses the impact the girls' deaths have on Andrea, a 12-year-old girl, and the police officer in charge of the case. The writing is haunting and atmospheric - beautiful, in fact, with highly descriptive evocative poetic passages. The stunning setting felt as alive as the well-developed characters themselves.

This is a multi-layered whodunnit set against a backdrop of mysterious woods and the legend of a trapper who committed suicide in them. It's also a coming of age novel, as Andrea loses her childhood innocence and becomes more aware of the dangers around her.

The book isn't always an easy read. It took me a while to get used to the style, as there's no dialogue, so it may not appeal to everyone. But I persisted, and looked beyond this, eventually immersing myself into this intelligent character-led story.

Are you following the Blog Tour?

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey

Let the Dead Speak
By Jane Casey
Published by Harper Collins (9 March 2017)
ISBN: 978-0008148980

Publisher's description
A murder without a body
Eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home one day to find the house covered in blood and Kate, her mother, gone. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder.
A girl too scared to talk
Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant. She suspects Chloe is holding something back, but best friend Bethany Norris won’t let Maeve get close. What exactly is Bethany protecting Chloe from?
A detective with everything to prove

As the team dig deeper into the residents of Valerian Road, no one is above suspicion. All Maeve needs is one person to talk, but that’s not going to happen. Because even in a case of murder, some secrets are too terrible to share…

My verdict
Let the Dead Speak is a police procedural but, since it's narrated in first person, I found that it also reads as a psychological thriller - a perfect combination.

This is the seventh book in the Maeve Kerrigan series. I've read the first two books and the sixth, but not yet the ones in the middle. In fact, I read the sixth book as a standalone last year, and then started to catch up with the rest of the series. I just couldn't want any longer to read Let the Dead Speak, which is why I jumped ahead againI do believe this book would work well as a standalone though.

In Let the Dead Speak, a woman has disappeared from her home, leaving just a trail of blood - a lot of blood. Maeve Kerrigan has now been promoted to Detective Sergeant, and feels she has to prove her worth in her new role. As she investigates a murder without a body, she discovers a lot of suspects among the woman's neighbours. Her search for the truth reveals dark secrets and a whole host of lies.

Jane Casey has a brilliant way of writing books that flow seamlessly. She maintains a fast pace with a good mix of tension, action and intrigue. This is a really easy read. I don't mean the plot is a simple one - it's complex and multilayered, with subtle, and not so subtle, twists, turn, surprises and red herrings. But the writing, as always, is excellent and a pleasure to read, with plenty of humour to lighten up the dark plot. The characters are varied and believable, and this great characterisation drives the story forward. I particularly love Maeve's relationship with Derwent (in fact, I particularly love Derwent...).

Jane Casey's books get better and better! I can't praise this book highly enough. I loved it and didn't want it to end.

I received an Advance Reader Copy.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Why the change of direction? by Jane Lythell

I'm delighted to welcome Jane Lythell to my blog today, to talk about why she has changed direction with her novels. Woman of the Hour was published by Head of Zeus in paperback on 3 November 2016. 

Why the change of direction with my novels?
By Jane Lythell

My first two novels The Lie of You and After the Storm are psychological thrillers. I have always been interested in what drives a person to do extreme things and in these two books I explored obsessive behaviour.

The Lie of You is about Heja who wants to destroy Kathy who is her work colleague. Kathy is a new mum and is struggling to cope on her return to work. She feels all her work errors are of her own making. Gradually her home life as well as her work life starts to fall apart. In fact she is being systematically undermined by Heja. Heja is a chilling and obsessive woman and yet by the end of the book the reader understands what drove her to act as she did and maybe even to feel some sympathy for her. We all have a dark side which we hide from the world. Sometimes something happens which tips a person into full blown obsession. 

My second novel After the Storm is set in Belize City and an island in the Caribbean Sea. There are four main characters: British couple Anna and Rob and an American couple Owen and Kim who have an old sailing boat they have been living on for three years. On their first night in Belize Anna and Rob meet Owen and Kim. Owen suggests they charter his boat and he will take them to the island of Roatan, where the diving is sensational. Anna is fearful but Rob persuades her it will be a great adventure. Unknown to them Kim is desperate to go home to Florida but Owen is determined to continue their life on the boat. Straightaway we have conflict of wishes between the four characters and a small boat is a very claustrophobic place when tensions start to build.

The two couples set off. It takes ten days to reach Roatan and that is a long time when one of the four, Owen, is hiding a terrible secret that is eating away at him. The strapline of the book is Some Secrets Destroy You. The storm of the title is both a weather storm and a psychological storm. By the end of the novel all four characters have been changed by spending this intense time together. The underlying theme is that you need to bring dark secrets out into the light of day in order for them to lose their destructive power.

I greatly enjoyed exploring the dark side of my characters in both these novels. With a thriller you set up a problem that has to be solved and you are guaranteed a strong forward momentum. Given this why did I decide to change direction with my third novel and move away from psychological thrillers to writing contemporary women’s fiction?

The reason was that I had a strong desire to write about the issues raised by a woman’s working life. So many novels depict women’s family and emotional lives. I’ve seen much less fiction about a woman struggling with the pressures of work. Yet that had been my life. A single working mother, trying to keep all the balls up in the air, feeling conflicted about competing pressures. I wanted to explore that.

I wanted to write a strong female character who also has her weaknesses and vulnerabilities. My heroine Liz Lyon is 41 years old and divorced. She is a respected TV producer and a guilty single mother. I wanted to show the whole woman: work-Liz, calm, controlled, soothing egos and managing a difficult boss and home-Liz who is far more emotional and reveals her real thoughts and feelings. At work Liz has to bite her tongue and censor what she says. At home she can let rip. And she fears that she is a better mother to her team than she is to her beloved daughter Flo.

The drama of the workplace offers such a rich vein to explore in fiction. So many issues and moral dilemmas are thrown up by this aspect of our lives. There are power struggles, intrigue and betrayals as well as moments of satisfaction and fulfilment.

I think it is important not to keep doing the same thing in your writing just because it worked the first time. I worked as a producer in television for 15 years and saw this happen too often where repetition of a successful format stifled creativity. You have to trust in your readers as why would they want the same thing over and over?

Finally, for me the most important thing is to create characters my readers believe in. It doesn't matter if they dislike a character or adore them. But it does matter if my readers don't believe in them.

I am currently writing a second book about Liz Lyon and StoryWorld TV station which will be published by Head of Zeus in August. 

About Jane Lythell
Jane Lythell lives in Brighton and is a sea-lover, star gazer, film and football fan. She worked as a television producer for fifteen years. She then moved to the British Film Institute as Deputy Director, a year as Chief Executive of BAFTA followed by seven years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Her debut novel, The Lie of You was published in January 2014; her second After the Storm in January 2015 and her third novel Woman of the Hour in July 2016, all by Head of Zeus.

Find Jane on her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter - @janelythell

About Woman of the Hour

Woman of the Hour
By Jane Lythell
Published by Head of Zeus (Paperback - 3 November 2016)
ISBN: 978-1784971212

Publisher's description
Meet Liz Lyon: respected TV producer, stressed-out executive, guilty single mother.
StoryWorld is the nation's favourite morning show, and producer Liz Lyon wants to keep it that way. Her job is to turn real-life stories into thrilling TV – and keep a lid on the scandals and backbiting that happen off-stage.
But then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a game of one-upmanship where she doesn't know the rules. As the power struggle intensifies, can Liz keep her cool and keep her job? Does she even want to?

Buy Woman of the Hour from Amazon UK here.