Cold Welcome (Vatta’s Peace I) by Elizabeth Moon

Orbit | 2017 (13 April) | 434p | Review copy | Buy the book

Cold Welcome by Elizabeth MoonAdmiral Ky Vatta is on her way back to her home planet Slotter Key as a hero. The war is over and Ky, more than anyone, was responsible for the victory. It’s a bittersweet moment. Ky left Slotter Key in disgrace as a cadet years before but she’s told things are different now. Her great aunt is Rector of the planet, responsible for its forces, and the Commandant who expelled her is the one to greet her, ready to make peace and welcome home this great war hero. So all goes well until a saboteur crashes Ky’s shuttle, hurling it into the roughest of seas, close to the most hostile of the planet’s continents, abandoned and failed by its terraformers.

With most of her fellow officers murdered, it’s up to Ky to save the remaining shuttle crew and passengers, aware that her enemies may turn up to finish the job, long before rescue can arrive. But the immediate problem is to survive as this unwelcoming planet does its worst. Some of its secrets, though, are about to be revealed.

Cold Welcome is, I’m afraid to say, the first novel by Elizabeth Moon that I’ve read, but the premise of this one instantly appealed to me. I loved the sound of a disaster story set in space, in the same way that I was drawn to Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust and Andy Weir’s The Martian. I’m fascinated by the bravery and resourcefulness of individuals who fight to survive against all odds in the most volatile of environments, and space is as hostile – yet alluring – as it gets.

Much of Cold Welcome deals with Ky’s efforts to bring her fellow survivors together on sea and on land and it’s thrilling stuff, not least because Ky has to be as suspicious and alert as she is capable in a crisis. I really enjoyed these sections. Without giving anything away, what they discover on this planet is extraordinary. But I couldn’t help finding it all a bit of a coincidence because the shuttle could have crash landed anywhere on the planet. The novel becomes something else during its second half, perhaps losing my attention a little bit, but I’d be interesting in discovering more about what they found.

But not all of the action takes place on the planet. We also follow the – extremely drawn out – plans of Ky’s nearest and dearest (especially Rafe Dunbarger) to put together a rescue mission. It’s in these sections that we become aware of the wider troubling political situation as people scramble for control now that the war is over.

Winning the peace looks like it could be even more difficult than winning the war, as testified to by Cold Welcome being just the first novel in a new series, Vatta’s Peace. The book does have a satisfactory conclusion but it’s clear that it’s leading on to more. I think if you’ve read the Vatta’s War books, as I haven’t, then you would get more from Cold Welcome than I did. You may feel more of an attachment to Ky and her family and partner than I felt. You also might have more patience with the author’s style, which I did feel rambled a little. But, as I say, I suspect these issues were mostly because I went in to this as a newbie when there is an awful lot of back history which I couldn’t pick up on, even though it’s not necessary for understanding and enjoying the actual story. Which I did, very much.

I loved the descriptions of Slotter Key and its harsh environments. I am such a fan of adventure stories set in cold wastelands and this certainly fits the bill. I also really enjoyed the hints that there is more to this planet’s development than its history books might suggest. Cold Welcome is packed full of adventure and intrigue and I look forward to seeing how the series will develop.

A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride

HarperCollins | 2017 (20 April) | 608p | Review copy | Buy the book

A Dark so Deadly by Stuart MacBrideWhen DC Callum McGregor is informed of the discovery of a body in the city of Oldcastle, Scotland, he makes the mistake of hoping that his luck might be about to change. Because Callum is one of The Misfit Mob, the place where Police Scotland dumps the police officers it’s not able to sack. But it appears that the proper police are a bit overstretched and this is a body too many for them to cope with. It’s all too good to be true, of course. The body turns out to be a mummified corpse hidden in the local tip. Callum knows how it feels.

But soon one mummy turns into two and the surprising evidence indicates that this might not be the work of a prehistoric murderer after all, but of one alive and well and thriving in the constantly rainy city of Oldcastle. It’s no coincidence that a number of young men are also disappearing. With reluctance, the powers-that-be allow Callum and his fellow Misfits to stick with the case. Being expendable and rather desperate might stand them in good stead.

What a group of characters these Misfits are, and all with good reason for hating where they’ve ended up, whether it be for taking the rap for somebody else’s wrongdoing, or for being injured, or for turning in corrupt former colleagues. They are driven by a fierce sense of injustice and this can make them very grouchy indeed with each other – especially between Dot and Watt. But they have an extraordinary leader, DI Malcolmson, known to her officers as Mother. That’s when she lets them call her Mother. Callum hasn’t quite reached that stage yet. But, blimey, she is a force to be reckoned with. And she is well supported by her second in command, the maudlin McAdams, who believes that if something can’t be said in a haiku then it isn’t worth saying.

How to describe the goings on of A Dark So Deadly? I’m not going to try. It is an absolutely stunningly rich and multi-layered novel. On the surface it might be a crime novel, with all of the pleasingly twisty and complex plotting you could wish for, but there is so much more to it than murder. This is a novel set in a fictional Scottish city but it is as real as any place on Earth, and not just because of the fantastic maps that adorn the inside covers, and the people who live in it are entirely believable and alive. Totally alive. There is so much going on, so many crimes – this is not the most contented city you can imagine – all going on at the same time and Callum and his fellow officers are deeply immersed in them all.

The officers have their back histories as you can imagine when you see how they’ve ended up, but Callum’s personal life delivers punch after punch and it’s a wonder he’s still standing. It is extraordinary. And I wanted to stand up for him so much. I felt deeply invested in Callum, and in the others, and especially in Mother whom I absolutely adored. I cannot describe in adequate words how much I loved these characters. How much they made me laugh. There might be cursing and all manner of insults but there is such a warmth behind it. Even the baddies made me care. Until they did something really bad.

At this point I should mention that Stuart MacBride is one of my all-time favourite novelists and his Logan McRae books are my favourite crime series. A Dark So Deadly isn’t part of that series and it is a completely stand alone novel. When I picked it up I felt about 10 seconds of regret that I wouldn’t be back with McRae and Steel but that feeling sharply dissipated as soon as I started reading this fabulous novel. Callum isn’t McRae and Mother isn’t Steel but I fell for them in exactly the same way and if we don’t meet them again in another novel, I will be distraught. Distraught, Stuart MacBride!

A Dark So Deadly is 600 pages long. Normally, I would argue that this is too long for a crime novel but of course this is no ordinary crime novel. In fact, I would suggest that 600 pages is far too short! I did not want it to end and I read it in two glorious days. I must also mention that the hardback is a thing of beauty. The maps I referred to earlier are gorgeous and brilliantly done. It is so hard to believe that Oldcastle isn’t a real place. Not that I want to go there…

I have no hesitation in proclaiming A Dark So Deadly to be, in my opinion, the most enjoyable crime novel that I have ever read. This is quite a statement but it is absolutely true. It’s complex, ambitious, warm and completely engrossing, tragic and funny, compelling and perfect. Do not miss it.

Other reviews
Logan McRae series
In the Cold Dark Ground

Ararat by Christopher Golden

Headline | 2017 (18 April) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Ararat by Christopher GoldenAdam and Meryam live for adventure. A modern couple, newly engaged, they have become well known for the videos they record on their perilous expeditions across the globe. But everything they have done before now is about to fade into insignificance once they take a call from an old friend and trekking guide in Turkey. An earthquake and avalanche has hit Mount Ararat and a huge cavern has been exposed high in the mountain’s side. They aren’t the only explorers who want to know what’s in that cave and the race is on to claim it first. Meryam and Adam win.

The cave is all that anyone could hope for – it is the Ark, trapped in the mountain, astonishingly well-preserved and now exposed for the first time in countless ages. Meryam is project manager but the team that now investigates it is large, including archaeologists, linguists, pathologists and doctors, as well as others whose job it is to watch. There are mysteries hidden in the wreck and governments are interested, particularly here so close to Iraq. And that’s even before the religious connotations of the Ark are considered. Can any one religion lay claim to the Ark?

But all of this goes by the by once Meryam and her team descend further into the body of the vessel and find a mummified corpse encased in an inscribed sarcophagus, covered in pitch. On its head are the remains of horns while its limbs are distorted. It is abundantly clear that this hideous corpse is most definitely not Noah.

Christopher Golden is such a fine writer of horror (and other things) – I loved his earlier novels Snowblind and Dead Ringers, both of which chilled me to the bone (I’ll never forget the ending of Dead Ringers – that book gave me nightmares!). I’m delighted to say that Golden has done it again. Taking us far away from the comforts of modern life into the Godforsaken cold of the remote and lethal wintry mountain, we can expect anything to happen. And it does, almost immediately. How I love horror novels set on cold, isolated mountains and frozen wastelands.

The team find it hard enough to get along as it is, even without the horror that is thrown at them, and the tension is immense. Some characters we get to know better than others (for some rather obvious reasons), but the ones that we do get to know are developed very well, with hints of their past lives beyond the mountain. There are several little groups of people within the larger team and it’s intriguing moving between them. Not that it pays to get close to anyone in Ararat. The rate of attrition is high to put it very mildly indeed.

Ararat is a frightening novel (hooray!) and it is also a very gory and violent one. There are bits you might want to read with your eyes closed. Obviously you have to suspend your powers of disbelief and there is something rather inevitable about much of what happens but Ararat delivers exactly what I wanted from it. It’s a very well-written, satisfying, frightening, chilly and gory horror extravaganza and, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. More, please!

Other reviews
Dead Ringers

Ashes to Ashes by Paul Finch

Avon | 2017 | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book

Ashes to Ashes by Paul FinchJohn Sagan is a killer for hire and he deals out death with the utmost and coldest violence in his caravan, known and feared by many in London as the Pain Box. DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenberg is after him. And his drive to catch him intensifies when one of Heck’s informants narrowly escapes from the Pain Box with her life. But the best laid plans have a habit of going wrong and Sagan dodges Heck’s trap. The rumours suggest that Sagan has fled north, to Bradburn, Heck’s hometown and a town caught in a gangland war. Heck follows but yet more death awaits him, this time in the terrible form of the Incinerator – a masked man who murders with fire.

Heck is not your ordinary detective. Instead, he is a maverick who hovers on the edges of procedure, ready to do whatever it takes to lock away evil, irritating without fail his superiors. Ashes to Ashes is the sixth novel in the series and so we’re familiar now with Heck’s uneasy relationship with his immediate boss in the Serious Crimes Unit, Detective Superintendent Gemma Piper, but new readers will have no problem picking up both their history and the tension. In Bradburn, among a new team of officers, Heck displays his usual disregard for following orders but a grudging respect grows on both sides as his unusual methods are shown to bring results.

I am such a fan of this series and couldn’t wait to read it. These books are always dark and violent but Ashes to Ashes takes this further, not just because of the nature of the murders but also because of the gangland presence throughout the novel. Nasty people walk these pages, some of whom fall foul, as Sagan and the Incinerator trawl for victims. The murders, though, are particularly unpleasant and there were a few pages that I had to skim through. The gangland aspect isn’t something that I find especially appealing in crime fiction and so I can’t say that Ashes to Ashes is my favourite of the series but that’s more my fault than the book’s.

Paul Finch is an excellent writer who has created one of the most successful and memorable figures in crime fiction. Heck isn’t perfect by any means, but he’s a man you’d want on your side, fighting for you. You know he wouldn’t give up. We learn a little more about his background here as he returns to his roots in Bradburn. It leads to self-reflection and doubt. But if ever there was a town in need of saving, in need of Heck, it’s this one.

Other reviews and posts
‘What seven things you should know if you want to write crime fiction’ – Guest post

‘Writing Cromwell’s London’ – Guest post by Antonia Senior, author of The Tyrant’s Shadow

The Tyrant's Shadow by Antonia SeniorThis week, Corvus published The Tyrant’s Shadow, Antonia Senior’s third novel and the second to be set in the troubled middle years of the 17th century. The Civil War, and Cromwell’s Commonwealth, is one of the most compelling periods in English history (Oxford, where I live, is steeped in Civil War history) and I can’t get enough of it. I am so pleased to be able to host a guest post in which Antonia Senior looks at the challenges an author faces in bringing this period, and its remarkable personalities, back to life – especially Oliver Cromwell. Many thanks to Antonia for taking the time to write such a fascinating piece.

First, here is a little about The Tyrant’s Shadow. A review will follow shortly.

A court without a kingdom, a kingdom without a king…England, 1652: since Charles I’s execution the land has remained untethered, the people longing for change. When Patience Johnson meets preacher Sidrach Simmonds, she believes her destiny is to become his wife and help him spread the Lord’s word. Simmonds sees things quite differently. Patience’s brother Will has been bestowed the job of lawyer to Oliver Cromwell. Tasked with aiding England’s most powerful man, he must try to overcome his grief after the loss of his wife. Then Sam Challoner, Will’s brother-in-law, returns unannounced after years in exile, forcing Will and Patience to question their loyalties: one to a ruler, the other, a spouse. Who do they choose to save? Themselves, their loved ones or their country…

Writing Cromwell’s London

I was raised to hate Oliver Cromwell. Hatred of Cromwell, dark mutterings about Drogheda and a bone-deep affection for the Mountains of Mourne – these the are legacies of an Irish mother. It was a dark day when, steeled with red wine and misplaced bravado, I said to my Mum: “Actually, I don’t think Oliver Cromwell was so bad. In fact, I quite like him.”

Readers, she was not tickled.

Treason's Daughter by Antonia SeniorI went looking for Cromwell the Monster in the sources when I set out to write The Tyrant’s Shadow. My first book on the period, Treason’s Daughter, followed events from 1640 until the death of Charles 1 in 1649. My second Stuart novel, The Tyrant’s Shadow, is set in London in the mid 1650s – when England’s politicians and soldiers are desperately attempting to find a solution to the King-shaped hole in the constitution.

For me, this is one of the most fascinating moments in all of English history. We were without a King; without a settled constitution. A vacuum of power, and a violently unsettled body-politic. In all my work, I have grappled with the nature of power; how is it earned, exercised and lost. And more pertinently as a novelist, perhaps, why do people want it?

This is no new pre-occupation for a writer. In my novel, my character Will quotes Lucan’s Civil War – a masterpiece study on the men who fought for Rome, written by a poet compromised by his proximity to Nero’s toxic court. “As long as earth supports the sea and air the earth, there will be no loyalty between associates in tyranny and no power will tolerate a partner.’

This is the position in 1653: power is uneasily shared between Cromwell as head of the army, the army itself, and parliament. But the triumvirate is fatally flawed – all three partners want different things; and there is further dissent between army factions and within Parliament. There are two versions of what happened next. Version 1 has King Oliver violently seizing power as the fruition of years of scheming. Version 2 has Saint Oliver reluctantly taking charge to prevent a descent into anarchy and madness.

The answer, I think, is a tangle of the two. And it is these historical tangles that are irresistible to a novelist. In I wriggled, looking for the hints and clues, extrapolating wildly. I found not a monster, but a man who believed himself sincere, who was continually compromised by the exigencies of wielding power. A man who could be both sincere and duplicitous, violent and gentle.

I also found God. Not personally, you understand. There is nothing like a good rummage in the barmy theistic arguments of the seventeenth century to bolster your atheism. But Cromwell cannot be weighed without reference to his great and bombastic belief in God’s providence working through him.

God presents problems to the secular novelist. He is central to understanding the torments of Stuart Britain. It is too easy to be a little sneering of these ardent beliefs – which seem to us to be dancing on the head of a pin. Fighting over the unknowable. I was reminded of 6th century Constantinople – the setting for an earlier, unpublished novel. There were riots on the streets, vicious, bloody affairs whose entire catalyst was over the nature of Christ: was He both God and Human separately and simultaneously, or was He His own divine mesh of the two?

It is easy to mock the sincerity of these beliefs. Hard to understand that for our forefathers who interpreted the bible literally, these were not arcane arguments of the cloister, but questions of faith which could lead to eternal damnation in a flaming hell.

God, I think, is one of the reasons why the English Civil Wars are not a popular era for readers. Publishers find it hard to shift books on the Civil Wars, which is odd given the attractions: a murdered King, families split apart, a high blood count, stories of great courage and great betrayals.

But God muddies the waters. It is not east to know which side you are on. The old adage that the Parliamentarians were Right but Repulsive and the Royalists were Wrong but Romantic is actually pretty fair. Our 21st century souls rejoice in the Parliamentarians’ distrust of tyranny and impulse to freedom, but recoils at the peculiar joylessness of their puritanism.

And of course, the rebels ended up, anyway, with King Noll – a tyrant of sorts. But as tyrants go he was no Robespierre, no Lenin, no Mao. His Shadow was relatively benign. Unless you were an Irish catholic, I can hear my Mother muttering darkly.

Why did Cromwell want power? I did not quite find him – he is too obscured by other people’s views of his motives. I found a man who inspired great loyalty, and devotion. A man who roused fierce hatred. A man who tried – but often failed – to hold the moderate line in a world turned upside down.

Cromwell’s London is a place of subtlety and shadow – and I loved writing it for all the reasons that make the era difficult to sell. It is full of ambiguities. In The Tyrant’s Shadow, there is another Tyrant – a domestic one, rather than a political one. The obverse of tyranny is complicity with it; and I wanted to explore this idea as well. My heroine, Patience, is married to man of certainties who treats her badly. At one point, as he hits her, she thinks: “He will do as he will do. Such is the nature of tyranny. All she can do is find her pride, hiding in peculiar corners.”

Survival Game by Gary Gibson

Pan | 2016, Pb 2017 | 343p | Review copy | Buy the book

Survival Game by Gary GibsonSurvival Game completes Gary Gibson’s Apocalypse Duology that began with Extinction Game. This means you definitely need to have read Extinction Game first, although each book could stand alone if you force it to. This review assumes you know what happened in the previous novel.

In a universe of alternate Earths, scientist Katya lives on an Earth dominated by the Russian Empire. It has her in its cruel power, holding her family hostage, while she attempts to uncover the secrets of a mysterious artefact, the Hypersphere. It is believed that the Hypersphere was created by the Stage-Builders, or Syllogikos, an ancient civilisation that built the first transfer stages which opened doorways between the parallel Earths. It is suspected that the Hypersphere could prove to be an even more powerful conduit but there’s a snag – it’s broken. But the authorities have learned of the existence of a second sphere, intact this time, on another Earth, one that is controlled by America. Katya is ordered to travel there in disguise as a scientist from that other Earth’s Soviet Russia. Once there she must use all means to bring the Hypersphere back to her own Earth, where the Tsar has his own plans for it. Katya has no choice.

Survival Game returns us to the alternate American base on Easter Island, the home of the Pathfinders, individuals who each survived, completely alone, their own Earth’s apocalypse. Their mission is to explore the other Earths to search for artefacts that can help explain the reasons for the apocalypses which have plagued most of the parallel Earths, wiping out the Syllogikos. Jerry Beche is once more our guide to these worlds as he is tasked with helping the science team to discover the secrets of the Hypersphere. But what he and Katya learn has devastating consequences, the very worst.

From its explosive and thrilling opening chapter, Survival Game immediately throws us into the heart of the action, into the conflicts of these alternate Earths where everything seems familiar in some ways and yet so different in others. On the Earths that have survived, democracy has suffered the most, both in the alternate Americas and the alternate Russias. But the transfer stages take us to other Earths that are utterly horrifying and plagued with the terrible legacies of apocalypse and it is on these worlds that Katya and Jerry must fight for their lives while also discovering, in the most vivid and immediate ways, the horror of what the Syllogikos faced in their final days.

I am a huge fan of Gary Gibson’s novels and have read a fair few over the years – Final Days remains one of my most loved novels of all time. While I don’t think that this Duology is Gary Gibson at his best – it lacks some of the wonder and vision that I find in the others, having more of an action movie feel about it – I can’t fault it as a science fiction thriller. It has some enticing (and some terrifying) ingredients – the ends of worlds, monsters, traitors and spies, mysterious artefacts, villains, intrigue and a splash of romance – and these keep the pages flying through the fingers.

The novels complement each other well. They contain separate stories but the larger picture continues to increase in size and clarity, and new characters work well with the old. It was great to meet Jerry Beche again, although Katya more than stands her own against him. There is some fantastic worldbuilding as we travel to devastated haunted dead worlds. Its ending is thoroughly satisfying while allowing room for Gary Gibson to return to this universe – or universes – in the future. But what I enjoyed most of all about Survival Game is the utterly compelling story of the Syllogikos and the apocalypse that ended them. In these sections in particular Gary Gibson demonstrates wonderfully his brilliant storytelling and extraordinary imagination which will always make me read every novel he writes.

Other reviews
Angel Stations
Stealing Light (Shoal Trilogy I)
Marauder (Shoal Universe but standalone)
Final Days
The Thousand Emperors (Final Days II)
Extinction Game

‘What seven things you should know if you want to write crime fiction’ – Guest post by Paul Finch

Ashes to Ashes by Paul FinchThis week, Avon publishes Ashes to Ashes, the sixth novel in one of my very favourite crime series – the DI Mark Heckenburg books by Paul Finch. My review is on the way (the book was my holiday companion in Italy last week) but in the meantime I’m delighted to host a Blog Tour guest post from Paul Finch on the intriguing subject of ‘What seven things should you know if you want to write crime fiction?’. It is a brilliant post!

Before that, here’s a little of what Ashes to Ashes is about:

John Sagan is a forgettable man. You could pass him in the street and not realise he’s there. But then, that’s why he’s so dangerous.

A torturer for hire, Sagan has terrorised – and mutilated – countless victims. And now he’s on the move. DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg must chase the trail, even when it leads him to his hometown of Bradburn – a place he never thought he’d set foot in again.

But Sagan isn’t the only problem. Bradburn is being terrorised by a lone killer who burns his victims to death. And with the victims chosen at random, no-one knows who will be next. Least of all Heck…

What seven things should you know if you want to write crime fiction?

Well, it’s an interesting question, and certainly one I haven’t been asked before. Off the top of my head, I can think of seven things it might be useful for you to know. I wouldn’t say that these are the seven most important things, but it probably wouldn’t do you any harm to be forearmed, as they say. So here we go…

Guilt goes with the territory

This may seem a curious thing to say, but it reflects reality. By its nature, crime and thriller writing deals with the darker end of the human experience. It won’t just be routine wickedness you are exploring. Whether your lead characters are heroes or villains, they’ll be dicing with danger, skating along the edge of the abyss, doing all kinds of things that law-abiding citizens in normal life never would. Now, if you want your writing to be authentic, you’ve got to go the extra mile to ensure that you get the facts of these matters correct. That will entail lots of online research into areas you wouldn’t usually go anywhere near, such as the formation and organisation of criminal empires, the methods and modus operandi of serial killers, the anatomies of the world’s most successful bank robberies and/or assassination plots, the use and availability of illegal firearms, the impact upon human bodies of poison, nerve gas, biological weaponry, the formation of police investigation teams and the emergency procedures they follow, the complexities of drugs-trafficking, the risk and probability of terrorist attacks, the depth and breadth of those security shields that protect western cities against such catastrophic threats.

All of this is going to make fascinating reading, of course, for a security expert should he/she ever have call to examine your online activity. You will have the excuse that you’re a crime writer and that it’s all part of the game, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel a tad nervous when you’re indulging in it.

You’ll be challenged on facts

Never has the phrase ‘facts matter’ been more relevant than it is to the average crime/thriller writer. One of the most basic problems you have as an author in this field is that you’re straying into a fascinating, complex world which also, rather inconveniently, happens to be real. So, for example, you may be delving into law enforcement with all the procedures, protocols and legalities inherent to that. If you think that’s tough, you may also find yourself concerned with military matters, or security issues involving international law, the intelligence services and/or spec ops deployment. Medical and forensics questions will almost certainly arise; you may need to discuss weapons, explosives and the like. But the real problem is that you’ll likely encounter real-life people who have expertise in these fields, and if you get things wrong, they may well call you to account – sometimes in public.

While it’s not incumbent on you to become a guru in these matters, it would certainly help if you did some basic research. Whatever you do, don’t wing it.

(I will add that it won’t matter quite so much with the likes of MI6 and/or the SAS, as they’ll never comment anyway, and almost certainly will be delighted if you spread misinformation about their techniques).

You can chat to those who know

Library and internet research may help you factually, but it’s often a dry process and is unlikely to hit you from left-field with cool new ideas. In contrast, speaking to someone who’s actually done unusual things in his/her life can be much more fruitful. And the good thing is, with the exception of those ultra-secret organisations I mention above, most members of the security services are happy to chat about it, though they only tend to do so if approached … so don’t feel awkward about trying to pick their brains.

Police officers or ex-police officers are particularly good in this regard. I have a slight advantage here as an ex-copper, in that they may feel they can trust me more with the really juicy stuff, but I’d be surprised if the majority weren’t willing to have a chat with any writer. There may be certain areas they won’t go if they don’t already know you, but on the whole I think they’ll be willing to talk widely and informatively about their job. Never make the assumption that they’ll think you’re silly. They won’t. Many coppers I know also read crime fiction, while others would like to write – to immortalize their own exploits – but can’t, and so become very protective of writers they form relationships with, as they see that as the next best thing.

It is not a solitary profession

The semi-mythical image of the writer slugging on alone in his/her attic, virtually penniless and with no one to call a friend, particularly does NOT apply to the crime/thriller writer. I mean, I can’t comment on the ‘penniless’ bit – that all depends on your personal circs, but you DO have friends.

In all the literary fields, I’ve never known anywhere where the networking between practitioners is quite as vibrant as it is in crime and thrillers. There are literally hundreds of authors writing this material at professional level, both at home and overseas, and they’re all doing exactly the same things you are: hammering away at their keyboards, proof-reading, flipping through websites on the research trail, chatting things over with their agents and editors – and not always to their personal satisfaction. More importantly, thanks to the internet, most of these men and women are now connected. There are all kinds of online crime-writer clubs you can join, places where friendships are made, experiences aired and info shared (and info about which publisher has a new slot available, or which editor is looking for what can be very useful indeed). This is a great way to relieve pressure, because it shows that you aren’t the only person struggling with writer’s block, or character development, or just with the sheer physical effort of trying to finish a full-length novel. Likewise, there are many crime fiction conventions and festivals you can attend, and crime-writing societies you can join. A burden shared is a burden halved and all that, on top of which a lively social life, especially when it’s crammed with folk who all share the same interest, can only improve your quality of life.

Readers can take as much as you can give them

Don’t be lulled into thinking that, just because certain subgenres within the overarching genre of crime writing are cosier than others – a good example being the ‘village green murder mystery’ – you have to handle your readers with kid gloves. In short, it’s quite the opposite.

One of the best examples of village green-style crime fiction in the modern day is the TV series, Midsomer Murders, and look at the body-counts in that, not to mention the various methods of dispatch. We’ve seen people killed with farm-tools, sliced, diced, decapitated, churned up by combine harvesters. One poor chap was beaten to death with cricket balls fired at him out of a batting machine. Crime readers, whatever style they prefer, are generally speaking a ghoulish bunch, who are here to enjoy a dalliance with the darkness. So, don’t hold back. As long as you don’t deal with death in juvenile fashion, you can, on the whole, pile on the grimness and violence. I mean, personally I’m a great believer in less being more, but I don’t think you can pussy-foot around the subject of murder, especially in this modern age when ‘true crime’ is so popular – and there ain’t nothing gorier than ‘true crime’.

So, if you feel you need to lay it on, don’t worry about the sensibilities of your readers. Lay it on.

Crime writing is a very broad church

So many people who don’t read crime/thriller fiction have complete misconceptions about it. They immediately think Agatha Christie and the traditional English whodunnit. That is undeniably there and is very popular. Sidney Chambers, the crime-fighting village vicar of James Runcie’s Grantchester Mysteries, still embodies something of that atmosphere, and his adventures sell widely. But there are other fields too. Our fictional crime-fighters, like crime-fighters in real life, vary across the spectrum – from sticklers for procedure and crusaders of correctness to embittered louts who are never any better than they need to be and subsequently walk tightropes through a world of crime and sleaze. It doesn’t even stop there; often we use hardboiled PIs as our models, the smart-mouthed heroes created by James Crumley, Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler, who are no strangers to the seediest worlds imaginable and will play by any rules to win. Sometimes the villains themselves are our central characters. The violent gangland thrillers of Ted Lewis, Malcolm Mackay and Howard Linskey perfectly exemplify this.

So there you have it; we range from those quintessential leafy villages in the heart of Middle England to urban hells populated by addicts, prostitutes, contract killers and corrupt politicians.

Oh yes, we’ve got it all. Feel free to explore at random.

There is no requirement to write on the side of good

As I intimated in earlier paragraphs, we are not, as authors, bound by real-world morality.

For my money, one of the best crime thrillers ever written is Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis, which was published in 1970 but filmed in 1971, perhaps more famously, as Get Carter. It tells the tale of a mobster from the North of England who makes good in London, but when his brother is murdered back home, gets on a train in a quest for gangland justice. What follows is a brutal, gritty noir filled with anger and darkness, and in the character of Jack Carter, it gives us an amoral and uncompromising hero, a cold-blooded hardman who is only different from the evil hoodlums he finds himself gunning for because his personal code of ethics is marginally more admirable than theirs.

But hey, this again reflects reality. You’ve doubtless heard the phrase ‘it takes a wolf to catch a wolf’. Well, we crime authors mustn’t be ashamed of putting that into practice. Morally ambiguous heroes are often far more interesting than those goodie two-shoes of the old school. In any case, as I say… this is fiction, not real life, so it doesn’t matter anyway. If that’s what you want to do with your book, go for it.


I can’t thank Paul enough for such a wonderful, fascinating post!

For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Ashes to Ashes blog tour