Thursday, 30 May 2019


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 



The big three are the ones who had the greatest influence on my own writing in the genre, the authors who set the benchmark. First and foremost, Robert Ludlum – best known these days for the Bourne franchise, but also the man behind great novels like The Osterman Weekend and The Holcroft Covenant; Tom Clancy, the father of the modern technothriller; and of course Ian Fleming, who crystalized the idea of the popular action-espionage thriller. 

I’m a lover of movies on a big scale – the bigger the blockbuster, the better! – but I also love lo-fi cult films and stuff at what some would sniffily call the trashier end of cinema. My list of all-time favourites changes and grows, but in terms of the films that have had the strongest influence on me, Blade Runners sits at the top of the list. I love the future noir world it creates, the darkness and rain-slick reality of it all. It’s a film I’ll never get tired of watching.

There’s been such a surge in good telly over the last decade that now I’m finding I can’t keep up with it all, but I try to at least get a sense of the big hits just so I can stay in pace! Recently, I’ve really enjoyed WestWorldMr Robot and Strike Back – three very different shows that together scratch my itch for drama, intrigue and action. 

I’ve always liked the female assassin trope in fiction, and one of my favourite examples is the titular Nikita from the Luc Besson movie of the same name. A broken, human killer, she’s forced into the life of a gun-for-hire and her odyssey is a compelling one. And I love that the character has been reimagined so many times, in American and Chinese remakes and two different TV series. 

While I’m a big fan of the three JB’s - James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer - each of them exemplifies a classic trope of the action hero/secret agent archetype, and as much fun as they are to watch, I prefer my heroes to be a little more vulnerable, a little more everyman. Richard Hannay from The 39 Steps, Jack Ryan from The Hunt for Red October, John McLane from Die Hard – these are all guys who have to work hard for their victories, coming through bloody but unbowed at the end. 

With this one, I’m immediately thinking of that scene from John Wick, where the mob boss talks about seeing Wick killing three men...with a pencil. Then in the sequel, we get to see him actually do it! 

A particularly grisly death in my friend Ben Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes involves the murder of a book thief whose is burned to death...from the inside out.

I scour technology, science and military sites for source material for my thrillers – among my most often-opened tabs are HavocscopeNew ScientistWar Is Boring and Wired. If MI5 are monitoring my computer, they must have a very interesting file on me by now.

There’s lots of advice to be given, but I found the most important piece boils down to two words: Finish It. I often hear inexperienced writers talk about starting projects only to drop them half-done and move on to something else, but I believe if you can’t “land” a story, you’ll never be anything more than a dabbler. No-one wants a half-cooked meal or a taxi that doesn’t take you all the way home – and an unfinished story is no different. I firmly believe finishing what you start is how you grow and improve as a writer.

If it’s got caffeine in it, I’m interested.

James Swallow is the BAFTA-nominated New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author of over fifty books, including the Marc Dane thrillers NOMADEXILEGHOST and SHADOW. He has also written for franchises such as 24Star TrekDoctor Who and several high-profile videogames.

Find James Swallow on his website and on Twitter - @jmswallow


Publisher's description
SHADOW is the fourth in the fast-paced action thriller series that began with the bestselling NOMAD; in this novel, ex-MI6 field technician turned intelligence agent Marc Dane and his partner – former US Delta Force sniper Lucy Keyes – are pitted against their most dangerous challenge yet, when a genius researcher with the ability to create a deadly biological weapon is kidnapped by a ruthless terrorist. 
Their desperate search for the missing scientist takes them across the world, from the streets of Singapore to the desolate wilderness of Iceland and the dark underbelly of a fracturing Europe, where they discover a shocking atrocity in the making. 
Backed by sinister interests operating above the laws of nations, a cadre of hard-line ultra-right-wing extremists plan to unleash a lethal virus among the population of a major European city – and unless Marc and Lucy can stop the attack before it happens, it will set off a chain reaction of events where thousands of people will perish, and the continent will be plunged into chaos... 

Shadow is published by Zaffre on 30 May 2019.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The Closer I Get by Paul Burston

The Closer I Get
By Paul Burston
Published Orenda Books (E-book - out now; Paperback - 11 July 2019)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
Tom is a successful author, but he’s struggling to finish his novel. His main distraction is an online admirer, Evie, who simply won’t leave him alone.
Evie is smart, well read and unstable; she lives with her father and her social-media friendships are not only her escape, but everything she has.
When she’s hit with a restraining order, her world is turned upside down, and Tom is free to live his life again, to concentrate on writing.
But things aren’t really adding up. For Tom is distracted but also addicted to his online relationships, and when they take a darker, more menacing turn, he feels powerless to change things. Because maybe he needs Evie more than he’s letting on.

My verdict
The Closer I Get by Paul Burston is a dark tale of obsession and a chilling reminder that while social media can be a brilliant and beneficial forum, it can also be highly dangerous.

This is a psychological thriller of modern times, thanks to its very blunt look at friendships, relationships and interactions online. How can we really know the people we respond to on sites such as Facebook or Twitter? In fact, let's face it, we don't know what's going on inside people's heads at all, even those we meet in real life (still waiting for that smartphone app!). It's very easy for all of us to hide behind a public facade. And in the world of social media, you can be pretty much anyone you want to be.

The book has a strong sense of Stephen King's Misery, focusing on Tom (a bestselling author now struggling with his second book) and Evie (his over-enthusiastic author-stalker fan). Thanks to social media, the 'celebrity-fan' line between them has been blurred and now Evie is in court.

The writing is fantastic, especially in terms of setting (both London and Hastings) and characterisation, and the twisty plot moves along at a cracking pace. I will admit that I laughed at some of the insights into the publishing industry - people and events - as they seemed very familiar. There are elements of courtroom drama, some thrilling and tense action scenes and some particularly tender moments between Tom and Colin, his elderly neighbour.

There was a strong sense of unease throughout the book. I could feel the frustration from both sides, alongside a nagging sense of doubt. I really didn't know who to trust - or who could be trusted. Was either one of them telling the truth? And then there was Emma, Tom's best friend, watching the 'car crash' scenario from the sidelines.

This book is thought-provoking and frighteningly plausible. I think we all know at least one 'Tom' and 'Evie'! By the end of The Closer I Get, I wasn't sure if I wanted to interact with anyone online ever again. I now realise that my efforts to interact have diminished ever since! Oops.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

First Monday Crime June 2019 - Meet the Authors!

The next First Monday Crime is taking place on Monday 3rd June 2019. 

For the season finale, five super-talented authors will be presenting their books to (also super-talented author) Marnie Riches for her summer read in Blind Book Date. The authors will be Elodie Harper, Tom Wood, Howard Linsey, Steph Broadribb/Stephanie Marland and Amer Anwar. But who will be the winner???

Meet three of the authors taking part!!

Steph Broadribb/Stephanie Marland

As Steph BroadribbI write the Lori Anderson action thriller series for Orenda Books. When researching the books I trained as a Bounty Hunter in California and travelled around the US scouting locations. My debut thriller – DEEP DOWN DEAD – was shortlisted for the ITW Best First Novel, the eDunnit eBook of the Year award, the Dead Good Reader Award for Fearless Female Character, and Dead Good Reader Award for Most Exceptional Debut. The second book in the Lori Anderson series – DEEP BLUE TROUBLE – came out in January 2018, with the third DEEP DIRTY TRUTH published in ebook in November 2018 and in paperback in January 2019.

As Stephanie Marland,I write the Starke/Bell psychological police procedural series for Trapeze (Orion). This series draws on my own experience as a blogger and the research I did (when working at a university for my day job) into human behaviour in online groups. The first book – MY LITTLE EYE – came out in April 2018, with the second – YOU DIE NEXT – due to be published in ebook and paperback in April 2019.

I’m a founder member and writing coach at 

I was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire, and most of my working life has been spent between the UK and USA. I’m an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters In Crime organisations. I currently live in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses and trying to wrangle an unruly but adorable puppy!

Find Steph on her website and on Twitter - @crimethrillgirl

Elodie Harper

Elodie Harper is a reporter and presenter at ITV News Anglia.  She's worked as a journalist for the past decade, including for Channel 4 News, ITN and BBC radio.  Her job has seen her join one of the most secretive wings of the Church of Scientology and cover the far right hip hop scene in Berlin, as well as crime reporting in Norfolk, where her novels are set.
In 2016, her story Wild Swimming won a short story competition judged by Stephen King.  It was published later that year by Cemetery Dance in the anthology Six Scary StoriesSelected and Introduced by Stephen King
Elodie's debut novel The Binding Song, was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2017 and was followed by The Death Knock in July 2018. 

Find Elodie on Twitter - @ElodieITV

Marnie Riches - compère for the evening 

Marnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in Manchester, aptly within sight of the dreaming spires of Strangeways prison. She swapped those for the spires of Cambridge University, gaining a Masters degree in Modern & Medieval Dutch and German. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist and professional fundraiser. In her spare time, she likes to spin, renovate houses and paint. Oh, and drinking. She likes a drink. And eating. She likes that too. Especially in exotic destinations.
Having authored the first six books of HarperCollins Children’s Time-Hunters series, her award-winning, best-selling George McKenzie crime thrillers for adults were inspired, in part, by her own youth and time spent in The Netherlands as a student. Marnie’s best-selling, critically acclaimed Manchester series about the criminal underworld of the UK’s second city took its inspiration from growing up on a rough estate in North Manchester’s infamous cultural melting pot, Cheetham Hill. Born Bad and the real life gangland stories that form part of the city’s sub-cultural heritage were featured on CBS Reality’s international hit documentary, Written In Blood. 
Tightrope – the first story in a series about flawed but fearless PI, Bev Saunders, launches Summer 2019 and is a must-read for fans of Martina Cole, Lynda la Plante & Kimberley Chambers.
Marnie appears regularly on BBC Radio Manchester where she discusses the day’s social media trends on Phil Trow’s drivetime show.

Find Marnie on her website and on Twitter - @Marnie_Riches

We'll all be cheering them on - on social media and in real life!

As a reminder, if you want a survival guide to First Monday, including how to get there, check out my post from last month here.

Find First Monday on:
Twitter - @1stMondayCrime 
Facebook -
Website -

Wednesday, 22 May 2019


Today, I am delighted that PAUL E. HARDISTY is my next victim (I mean, guest) taking part in my Author in the Spotlight. Turbulent Wake was published in paperback by Orenda Books on 16 May 2019. 

In many ways, Turbulent Wake is very different from your action-packed Claymore Straker series, exploring a father-son relationship, although the writing is just as stunning. What prompted you to write something so different this time?
Absolution was the last instalment of the Claymore Straker series. It wrapped up Clay’s story, at least for now, and sent him and Rania off onto the next stage of their lives. I really don’t know what the future will hold for them - it’s up to the reader. I have wanted to be a writer since I was eighteen, and there are so many ideas and fragments of stories I have collected since then, a lifetime of the stuff packed into journals and notebooks and rattling around in my head. In many ways, I have been working on Turbulent Wake since I was eighteen. I guess after thirty-five years it was time to pull it all together. The stuff I am working on now, when I have the time, is different again. Except for the writing – on that I just want to keep improving. 

Turbulent Wake is very much a journey, not only through your characters’ lives and experiences, but also around the world, through Africa, the Caribbean, London, Canada, South America, USA, Turkey and many more diverse locations. Are these all places you have visited (and visited recently)? How did you ensure that your descriptions were true not only to the specific locations mentioned, but also the time period that each particular chapter focused on? 
Turbulent Wake is essentially a fictionalised autobiography. It is all very personal, from boyhood memories to adult disappointments. The settings are all places I know well, in a detailed, footprint-in-the-sand, wind-in-your-face kind of way.  As the father, Warren, muses towards the end, life is nothing more than a series of events, some of which might be worth remembering or even sharing with someone else, most not. So yes, it’s all very close.

By the end of Turbulent Wake, I felt as though I knew your main characters (Ethan and Warren) very well. How did you make sure that you got to know them so well while you were writing the book? Is there any of you in each of them? 
This was the most difficult and the easiest book I have written. Easy because it’s so close to me, all of it. My mum read an early version and had a really hard time. It’s dedicated to her. It was also intensely difficult to write for exactly the same reason. It’s hard to strip away the protective shroud and explore things you have tried not to think about for decades.

Exploring how our past shapes us (and our relationships with family and friends) is a common theme in your books. What inspires you to explore this?
I am fascinated by the concept of chance.  Luck. Destiny. The blind, impassive, uncaring, arrow of time.  Call it what you may. So much of who we all are is determined by this. Who are parents are. Where and when we are born. The apparently random decisions made by others. Buffeted by these fates, we navigate through our lives as best we can, making mistakes, sometimes learning, always struggling. It makes you. And then, it’s over.  That’s what Turbulent Wake is all about: navigating this stormy sea, and the turbulence each of us leaves behind.

Your books always manage to educate me with their underlying environmental themes. Is this something you specifically set out to do when writing them or is this just the way they evolve, due to your own background as an engineer and environmental scientist?
The environment, as we call it, is the planet. It’s where we live. It supports all life, including ours. Without it, we would not exist. In the past, the environment (nature) was something awesome, unimaginably huge and powerful. Every day was a struggle to survive. The environment was a threat, something to be feared, conquered, and ultimately, defeated. Our literature is full of this story, from Beowulf to Moby Dick. But now, everything has changed. The 21st Century is completely different. The environment is now everywhere degraded, polluted, under threat. Extinctions are commonplace. True wilderness has disappeared. In all our history, we have never lived in this kind of world. One in which the environment itself is at risk, and we are the ones to be feared. It is a fundamental and unprecedented shift in the human condition. I want to write books for and of the 21st Century. This theme is, for me, inescapable.

What's the most interesting place you have visited when researching one of your books? And what's the strangest?
Until now, all of my books have been set in places and based on events that are very close to me. So research has been limited. I guess you could say my life and work as an engineer has been my research. The most amazing place I have lived and worked was Yemen – a cruel, beautiful, tragic place, now once again engulfed in civil war. My first novel The Abrupt Physics of Dying, is set there, during the 1994 civil war. I was there when the war broke out. The strangest place I’ve lived and worked has got to be the USA. Extremes of poverty and wealth, education and ignorance, avant-guard thinking and the deepest conservatism side-by-side everywhere you go. And big, in every way.

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less? 
Conflict. Action. Emotion. Depth. Detail. Ideas. Challenge. Intensity. Immediacy.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be? 
Turbulent Wake.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t waste a single minute. 

And lastly, why should people read Turbulent Wake?
The decisions we make echo through time, profoundly shaping our own lives and those of the people we are closest to.  Everyone lies, not only to protect themselves, but to protect, and sometimes to hurt, others. Life is one big mystery. Can the truthful account of a few key moments in one man’s life unravel part of the mystery? If that sounds fun, give it a go.

About Paul E. Hardisty

Canadian Paul E Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a, and was one of the last Westerners of out Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. Paul is a university professor and CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science AIMS). The first four novels in his Claymore Straker series, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, The Evolution of Fear, Reconciliation for the Dead and Absolution all received great critical acclaim and The Abrupt Physics of Dying was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and was a Daily Telegraph Thriller of the Year. Paul is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia.

Follow Paul E. Hardisty on Twitter - @Hardisty_Paul

Turbulent Wake
Published by Orenda Books (16 May 2019)

Publisher's description: 
Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father. Hidden in one of the upstairs rooms of the old man’s house he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of stories that seems to cover the whole of his father’s turbulent life.
As his own life starts to unravel, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, trying to find answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one else left, did his own father push him away?

Read a snippet of my review:  "Turbulent Wake really showcases the author's writing talent. I read it twice because I loved it so much and to appreciate and discover the many layers. I could read this book forever and it's likely to become one of my all-time Orenda favourites."

Read my full review here.

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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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