Tag Archives: Blog Tour

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

Michael Joseph | 2017 (27 July) | 414p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Marriage Pact by Michelle RichmondAlice and Jake are the perfect couple – young, attractive, with fine careers ahead of them. Alice was a singer in a successful rock band but now she’s an up and coming lawyer while Jake is a partner in a growing psychology practice. They’re ready to get married. On the spur of the moment they invite one of Alice’s wealthy clients to the wedding. He loves weddings, he tells them. His gift is unexpected – an offer to join something called the Pact.

The Pact, Alice and Jake learn, is a society of like-minded couples who want nothing more than to achieve the perfect marriage. It lays down a few rules that are designed to bring the couple closer together and every few months everyone gathers at a Pact party to celebrate their marriages and friendships. It all sounds positive and Jake and Alice desperately want their marriage to work. Jake spends much of his time counselling couples on the verge of divorce. He knows better than most that a relationship takes commitment. Perhaps they could do with the help. So, with only a cursory glance at the paperwork, Jake and Alice join the Pact. And so begins a descent into a hell of their own making.

What follows is something from the realms of horror that, as reviewers have noted, has elements in common with The Stepford Wives. For the Pact is nothing but a sinister cult. It might be glamorous on the outside but its core is rotten through and through. The lengthy manual that Jake and Alice are given lays out the code and any infractions are met with punishments of increasing brutality and humiliation. Jake and Alice are trapped and what happens to them is appalling.

The Marriage Pact is undoubtedly one of the most gripping novels I’ve read this year. It’s a rollercoaster ride of suffering for Jake and Alice but it’s a thrilling read for us as time after time we wonder what could possibly happen next. The movement from the beginning to the end is staggering, so much has happened. The members of the Pact are successful members of society and it’s all stripped away before our eyes.

There is a fundamental issue with The Marriage Pact that you have to get past in order to enjoy it. Its premise is completely preposterous and unbelievable. This is compounded by the fact that Alice is a lawyer – why didn’t she read the contract? And the incredible resources that the Pact has in its power are just that – incredible. Everything feels that it is held together purely by compliance and submission. I wanted to shake these silly people from start to finish.

But, if you can get past this as I did, then you’ll have a lot of fun with The Marriage Pact. It’s well-written and there are sections of this novel that were golden to me. These bits, for me, weren’t part of the main plot but to do with Jake’s job as a psychologist. The novel is narrated by Jake and he likes to tell us about his day, giving us facts and figures, for example, about marriage as well as anecdotes about coming to terms with one’s past. I found some of these sections extraordinarily powerful and I actually took some tips away from it! Some of the book’s ideas went far deeper than I was expecting.

I also enjoyed Jake and Alice. It’s easy to feel irritated by Alice but her character is an interesting one and I was desperate for her to wake up. Their relationship, though, feels genuine and I did care what happened to them. The spiral into hell that is The Marriage Pact happens fast and it is very hard to put down. The ending has divided reviewers and I can’t say that it was entirely satisfactory for me but I can’t imagine how else it might have ended so I’m happy enough with it. This is a novel with fine writing and huge energy and heart and within were significant little nuggets of gold which I’ll carry away with me.

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Marriage Pact. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

The Marriage Pact blog tour

Court of Lions by Jane Johnson

Head of Zeus | 2017 (6 July) | 397p | Review copy | Buy the book

Court of Lions by Jane JohnsonKate Fordham has left her old life, and much that she loves, behind her, driven from her home by brutal circumstances that have left her scarred and living under a new name in the beautiful city of Granada in Spain. Kate works in a bar in the city but her heart is most at home in Granada’s Alhambra, the palace of the Moors, with its stunning architecture and luxurious gardens. One day while visiting the site, Kate discovers in one of the walls a screwed up piece of very old paper marked with words written in no known language. And a door into the Alhambra’s past opens before us.

It is the late 15th century and the last act of the Sultans’ rule in Granada and southern Spain is about to play out. Prince Abu Abdullah Mohammed stands on the verge of the throne. The prince’s father, the Sultan, is unpopular, his cruel uncle hated even more, but the Sultan seals his fate when he puts his Sultana, the prince’s mother, aside in favour of Isobel de Solis, his beautiful Spanish war captive. But war within the family almost pales beside the threat from outside Granada. Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain are resolute in their determination to drive the Moors from Spain once and for all and they will show no mercy. But safe within the defensive walls of the Alhambra, the young prince shows another side. His closest friend is a child called Blessings. Blessings was sold from a desert tribe of North Africa to be the prince’s companion. Blessings finds the unexpected: painful unrequited love for the prince known and loved as Momo. Their story will play out against the drama of Granada’s last stand.

Court of Lions is such an enticing read! It’s a beautiful looking book with that fine hallmark of a Head of Zeus hardback – a ribbon – and just looking at it made me want to read it. I’m so glad I did. Jane Johnson richly evokes the last days of what must have seemed an Eden on Earth, the Alhambra, and brings it alive in colour, scents and fountain waters, though the involving story of Mumo and Blessings. The descriptions of the Alhambra are gorgeous, reminding us how hard it must have been for its Moorish inhabitants to give it up. This is a novel about war, though, and there are plenty of action-packed scenes as Mumo and his family fight each other for supremacy before Isabella and Ferdinand exert their own cruel influence. But the most wonderful parts of Court of Lions are those which take us within the walls of the Alhambra.

The novel moves backwards and forwards between the later years of the 15th century and the present day in which Kate struggles to escape and then confront her past. I enjoyed Kate’s story, particularly her interaction with the modern inhabitants of Granada, a city in which cultural differences still exist. But the heart of the novel, and the source of its greatest pleasure, is in the chapters which carry us back into history. Kate has little connection with this past beyond a sensitivity to the Alhambra’s history – this isn’t a timeslip novel – instead we’re given a sympathetic, atmospheric and elegant portrait of the Alhambra and its people through the centuries, focusing on characters past and present who capture our imagination wonderfully.

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of Court of Lions by Head of Zeus on 6 July. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.
Court of Lions blog tour poster

Ten of my favourite books – Guest post by Liz Lawler, author of Don’t Wake Up

This week, Twenty7 published the ebook of psychological thriller Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler. To mark the occasion, I’m really pleased to host a guest post from Liz in which she talks about an irresistible subject – her favourite books. Surely, a near-impossible task and so fascinating to read.

First, a little of what Don’t Wake Up is about (the publication of the paperback follows later in the year).

Alex Taylor wakes up tied to an operating table. The man who stands over her isn’t a doctor.

The choice he forces her to make is utterly unspeakable.

But when Alex re-awakens, she’s unharmed – and no one believes her horrifying story. Ostracised by her colleagues, her family and her partner, she begins to wonder if she really is losing her mind.

And then she meets the next victim.

So compulsive you can’t stop reading.

So chilling you won’t stop talking about it.

Ten of my favourite books

This is a difficult one as I have read every day of my adult life apart from the day my mother died and have read many books, particularly from the crime genre. So I mention but a few that will remain with me.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – I was already in love with Wuthering Heights long before I read it from watching the 1939 Hollywood adaption, with my father. As the tears rolled down my face, I both hated and loved Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff for ever having loved each other. When I studied the book for O’ level, I thought it would be a cinch, until I realised how many more characters and much more story was to be told. Both the cruelty and beauty of the story takes my breath away. Wuthering Heights was part of my childhood and always evokes memories of my father, who was not unlike Lawrence Olivier to look at.

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – I loved the darkness and psychological twists of this story of two men coming together and trading murders. Such a simple, yet devious idea of how to commit murder – and so easy to achieve – if you can simply carry out the act. The undoing of course is when one of you is not a psychopath.

To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I try not to read this book too often as I always want to feel its impact again. Atticus Finch will forever be one of my hero’s. Despite dealing with such serious topics of racism and rape, Harper Lee manages separate the darkness with warmth and humour throughout. Atticus has to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman while also bearing the responsibility of raising alone his two children, Scout and Jem. Harper Lee’s ability to tell a story is truly enviable.

A Star called Henry by Roddy Doyle – the story of a young lad called Henry Smart in 1901 growing up in the slums of Dublin, facing poverty and violence during the Easter Uprising. There isn’t a book of Roddy Doyle’s that I haven’t liked, but I loved A Star called Henry. I felt familiar with the dialogue of this book because my father was born in Dublin in 1914, and had already painted a picture of the Dublin portrayed by Roddy Doyle. The storyline of Henry and his younger brother, Victor, is truly poignant – it made me cry.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – set in California during the Great Depression about two men, George Milton and Lennie Small, seeking work on a ranch. I read this book in one sitting on a long lazy day after my daughter studied it for GCSE and was envious that she got to read and appreciate it at such young age. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn’t like a long read. It is a great emotional read, particularly the relationship between Candy and his dog.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – I romped through this book once I passed the first hundred pages and stayed hooked till the very end. I was sitting in a pub, on the last few pages, when an old man opposite me asked what I thought of it. Brilliant, of course, was my answer. ‘Aye, he did a good job,’ the old man replied. ‘But it’s the stink that I always remember.’

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – I loved the idea of this story – a murdered 14-year-old girl watching from heaven the grief and fallout of her family and unable to be with them. The compelling part of this story for me is that we stand with Susie Salmon and also get to watch, and all we can do is wait and hope that they find Susie.

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom – set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War showing the hardship facing the people under a fascist dictator. Henry Brett, a British reluctant spy, traumatised by Dunkirk, is sent to Madrid to spy on his old school friend, a questionable business man. This is a great spy novel as well as a love story.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – set in Afghanistan, this is such a powerful story – a friendship between two boys, one, the son of a rich man, the other, the son of a servant that is broken in a single moment of horror when one friend betrays the other. A stunning and harrowing story.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty – I read this before it became a drama and found it truly chilling. How in a moment a life can change forever. No matter that you think you have control of your life, when something takes it away, you are on your own. What I loved about this story is the way it shows the constraints and restrictions on a life just get tighter when you don’t know how to be somebody else.

For other stops of the tour do take a look at the poster below.

Person of Interest….. Need You Dead by Peter James

Need You Dead by Peter JamesTo celebrate the publication this week of Need You Dead, the thirteenth novel in Peter James’s hugely popular DS Roy Grace
series, I’m delighted to post something rather special. I’ve been sent a profile of a Person of Interest, which gives you a glimpse of one of the characters in the novel.

But first, a little of what Need You Dead is about:

Roy Grace, creation of the CWA Diamond Dagger award winning author Peter James, faces his most mysterious case yet in Need You Dead.

Lorna Belling, desperate to escape the marriage from hell, falls for the charms of another man who promises her the earth. But, as Lorna finds, life seldom follows the plans you’ve made. A chance photograph on a client’s mobile phone changes everything for her.

When the body of a woman is found in a bath in Brighton, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called to the scene. At first it looks an open and shut case with a clear prime suspect. Then other scenarios begin to present themselves, each of them tantalizingly plausible, until, in a sudden turn of events, and to his utter disbelief, the case turns more sinister than Grace could ever have imagined.

Person of InterestNorman Potting

Need You Dead, the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James, is out on 18 May (Macmillan, £20.00)

For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.
Need You Dead Blog Tour Poster

What inspired me to write about Joan of Kent? Guest post by Anne O’Brien, author of The Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen by Anne O'BrienThis week, on 4 May, HQ publishes Anne O’Brien’s latest historical novel: The Shadow Queen. To mark the occasion I’m delighted to host a guest post from Anne in which she writes about what inspired her to write about Joan of Kent, the wife and widow of the Black Prince and mother of Richard II.

First, here is a little of what The Shadow Queen is about:

From her first clandestine marriage, Joan of Kent’s reputation is one of beauty, rumour and scandal. Her royal blood makes her a desirable bride. Her ambition and passion make her a threat. Joan knows what she must do to protect her reputation… the games to play, the men to marry. She will do anything to get what she wants: The Crown of England. A tale of ambition, treachery and desire, The Shadow Queen tells of a woman’s ascent through the court to command royal power alongside her young son, King Richard II.

What inspired me to write about Joan of Kent?

Who was she?

Joan of Kent, during her eventful life, was Countess of Kent in her own right, Princess of Wales, Princess of Aquitaine and ultimately King’s Mother. She was a woman of royal birth and unsavoury reputation. What was it about this woman who made an impact on the court circles of the late fourteenth century that appealed to my imagination?

A Plantagenet princess, she was first cousin to King Edward III, a woman of royal status although her father’s name was tainted with treason. Joan was by tradition beautiful, raised in the royal household, but was salaciously notable for her three marriages, two of them clandestine and one certainly bigamous. Thus she has intrigued readers of history as much as she has invited condemnation. Was she ‘the most beautiful lady in the whole realm of England, and by far the most amorous’. Was she ‘beauteous, charming and discreet’? Or was she ‘given to slippery ways’?

But scandal was not the only element of fascination in Joan’s life. So was her ambition. As wife of Edward of Woodstock, later to be known as the Black Prince, she blossomed as Princess of Aquitaine where she made as many enemies as friends. As King’s Mother to the boy King Richard II she succeeded in the early years in keeping a firm grip on the power behind the throne. But her past scandals could undo all that she had achieved, threatening to destroy her secure hold on power. Would it, because of Joan’s marital history, be possible to accuse Richard of illegitimacy and so dethrone him?

How was the proud woman to be able to protect herself and her son? Always subtle and carefully manipulative, Joan exhibited a range of talents drawing into her political net the Royal Council and the powerful prince, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

There is so much here to entice the lover of medieval historical fiction. Was Joan simply a pawn in the pattern of royal alliance-making, forced into marriage with a powerful family against her personal wishes, or did she take her future into her own hands? Was she a woman of perfect compliance, or did she have a will of iron? Was her marriage to Prince Edward one based on a childhood love affair, or were Joan’s motives far deeper in her bid for personal power?

A character of much notoriety, some charm and considerable ambition. This is Joan of Kent, The Shadow Queen.

The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien is published 4 May by HQ (£12.99 hardback)

Other post
The Queen’s Choice – review and extract

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

Bantam Press | 2017 (20 April) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon BoltonBella is about to turn 40 and her younger sister Jessica has the perfect present for her – a balloon ride above the beautiful countryside of Northumberland. They’ve been looking forward to it for ages. But they drift above something they shouldn’t, a crime scene. And when Jessica looks straight into the eyes of a killer, she knows full well he’s looking right back at her. The pursuit is on. He chases them from the ground, firing shots, creating panic, and it isn’t long before that balloon and everyone riding in its basket tumbles to the ground. There is only one survivor and she must run for her life.

And that is all I’m going to say because Dead Woman Walking is an extraordinary novel, exquisitely plotted, and I don’t want to give away a thing, not even the seemingly insignificant details. It all mounts up and where it takes us is somewhere I’m not going to forget in a hurry. I expected shocks and surprises but I was not prepared for this. As I said at the time, just when I’d finished it: ‘You think you know where you’re heading and then BOOM!!!’ That still sums it up for me. I thought I’d been clever, that I’d worked it all out. Ha!

Sharon Bolton is one of the most original writers of jaw dropping crime fiction about today and I could not wait to read Dead Woman Walking, especially after devouring Daisy in Chains. It did not disappoint. I’ve mentioned how good the plot is, but so too is its mood. This book has menace and dread written all over it. It is extremely tense, the action moving across the miles, the pursuit closer and closer. And the characters are fascinating – those doing the chasing, those being chased and the police. There is also a timelessness about it, contributed to by the stunning yet challenging countryside and the presence of, yes, nuns.

The relationship between Jessica and Bella is especially significant, moving backwards and forwards in time through the novel. There is such tenderness and I fell for them both completely.

I realise that this review is short and (hopefully!) sweet. I just want you to discover Dead Woman Walking for yourself, ideally knowing as little as possible. If you’ve read Sharon Bolton’s novels before then be assured that you’ll get more of what you love here and, if you’ve never had the pleasure, then do dive in with Dead Woman Walking. Although you may get hooked.

Other review
Little Black Lies
Daisy in Chains

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

Dead Woman Walking Blog Tour

‘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.

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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

‘My nearly debut novel’ – Guest post by G.J. Minett, author of Lie in Wait

Last week, Zaffre published the paperback of Lie in Wait, the latest crime thriller from G.J. Minett. To mark the occasion, I’m delighted to host a guest post in which the author tells us about his ‘nearly debut novel’, a novel with a really rather unusual name. But first, a little of what Lie in Wait is all about:

A man is dead. A woman is missing. And the police have already found their prime suspect…

Owen Hall drives into a petrol station to let his passenger use the facilities. She never comes back – and what’s more, it seems she never even made it inside.

When Owen raises a fuss, the police are called – and soon identify Owen himself as a possible culprit – not least because they already have him in the frame for another more sinister crime.

Owen’s always been a little different, and before long others in the community are baying for his blood. But this is a case where nothing is as it seems – least of all Owen Hall…

A dark, addictive thriller, ingeniously plotted with a twist that will make you gasp, LIE IN WAIT is perfect for readers of Angela Marsons or Rachel Abbott.

‘My nearly debut novel’

Given that I’ve been writing since I was at primary school and have harboured dreams of being a published author for more years than I’d care to admit, it would be fair to say that the words ‘overnight success’ are never going to feature in any summary of my career to date. Like most authors however I had my fair share of near misses along the way and none more frustrating than with the first novel I ever completed.

I had started it while still at university, then put it not so much on the back burner as in the freezer for a few years when I started teaching. It was initially called Lobello (don’t ask!) and was a somewhat anarchic comedy about life at university – think Tom Sharpe without the polish and you won’t go far wrong. When I came back to it a few years later, it attracted the attention of an agent who was then in the early stages of his career but who is now a household name – I shan’t say who because he may not wish to reminded of those days! He really liked the novel and asked if he could represent me, which was not the most challenging question I’ve ever been asked, I have to say. He even came to visit us at home although I suppose the fact that he was also visiting one of his established authors nearby may have had something to do with it.

Most writers will understand what I went through over the next twelve months. Every so often I would receive a letter, saying which publishers had been approached. Then the rejections started coming in, most saying positive things but all ending with a few variations on the theme of ‘in the current economic climate’ and the inevitable ‘thanks but no thanks’. My agent tried, bless him. He got me to rework the prologue and opening chapters, changed the title to One Degree Under, tried just about every publishing house around until even someone with his boundless enthusiasm had to bow to the inevitable and call it a day.

He has now gone on to establish himself as a leading figure in the literary world. Lobello/One Degree Under on the other hand has been stuck in a drawer ever since and doesn’t often see the light of day. The last time I took it out and dusted it off, I have to admit there were still passages that made me laugh but the weaknesses are so egregious I can’t imagine what possessed either of us to believe it deserved to be published.

It’s served its purpose though over the years. It proved I could sustain a novel right through to the end. It was the first indication I’d ever had that someone in the literary world felt I could write. It engendered correspondence with other prominent figures which encouraged me to believe that if I ever got my act together and had a serious run at it, I might just be able to get a novel published someday. If I’d realised then how long it would take, I might have reassessed a few priorities and gone for it in a big way much earlier.

Can’t complain though. It may have been a long time coming but it’s been more than worth it. And even if it’s only because of its sentimental value, I’ll probably take that first novel out of the drawer another five or ten years from now and read it again. The words soft spot were coined for things such as that.

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

‘Why I write’ – Guest post by Brad Parks, author of Say Nothing

This month, Faber & Faber published thriller Say Nothing by Brad Parks. I’ll be reviewing this shortly but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to host a very entertaining guest post from Brad on why he writes and what he gets out of it. But first, a little of what Say Nothing is about:

On a normal Wednesday afternoon, Judge Scott Sampson is preparing to pick up his six-year-old twins for their weekly swim. His wife Alison texts him with a change of plan: she has to take them to the doctor instead. So Scott heads home early. But when Alison arrives back later, she is alone – no Sam, no Emma – and denies any knowledge of the text . . .

The phone then rings: an anonymous voice tells them that the Judge must do exactly what he is told in an upcoming drug case and, most importantly, they must ‘say nothing’.

So begins this powerful, tense breakout thriller about a close-knit young family plunged into unimaginable horror. As a twisting game of cat and mouse ensues, they know that one false move could lose them their children for ever.

Hugely suspenseful – with its fascinating insight into the US judicial system and its politics of influence and nepotism – Say Nothing is, above all, the poignant story of the terror these parents face, and their stop-at-nothing compulsion to get their children back.

Guest Post: Why I Write

Given recent events, you poor Brits are surely accustomed to crass, boorish Americans—not mentioning names or anything—so this shouldn’t come as a shock:

I got into writing for the money and the sex.

It’s true, oh gentle For Winter Nights readers. My first writing gig was for a local weekly newspaper, when I was fourteen. The job paid 50 cents a column inch, which was more than I could make babysitting.

So that was the money. As for the sex? The gig involved covering the high school girls basketball team.

Now, suspend your disbelief, but at fourteen I wasn’t quite the paragon of strapping masculinity that I am today. I was short, fat, and wore braces. However, I figured that if I was writing for the paper, girls would have to talk to me. And then I’d be able to work my charm on them and get dates.

(Pause).

Yeah, that part didn’t quite work out. But it did introduce me to the joy of storytelling, and to what I soon discovered was the real reason I got into writing:

I love being read.

No matter how cringe-worthy my articles were—and, trust me, they were bad—the mothers and fathers of these girls basketball players would lap it up, and then report back their thoughts about that week’s article.

It made me eager to impress them with my insight, to entertain them with witty turns of phrases, to get them talking about my story in the bleachers at the next game—no matter how sophomoric my prose actually was.

I’ve come a long way as a writer since that time (or at least I hope I have). But some things haven’t changed. My fundamental goal when I sit down to write is still to make people react to my words—whether they’re feeling tension, or laughing, or crying, or something else altogether.

This feels like an especially appropriate confession to make at For Winter Nights, because this blog covers such a wide swath of genre fiction. And, to me, the real hallmark of great genre fiction is that it values the entertainment of the reader over the self-gratification of the writer.

Don’t get me wrong, I get a ton of enjoyment out of this, too—it’s a wonderful, albeit patently ridiculous, way to make a living. But I’m never going to let my own needs take precedence over yours as a reader.

And when I hear from one of you, saying my book made you stay up all night to finish it? From where I sit, that’s even better than money.

But not sex. This writing thing has its limits, you know.

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Say Nothing by Brad Parks is published by Faber & Faber (£12.99)
Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. Say Nothing is his UK debut.

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

Kin of Cain by Matthew Harffy – an extract

kin-of-cain-by-matthe-harrfyOn 1 March, Aria published Kin of Cain, a novella in Matthew Harffey’s Bernicia series set in Anglo-Saxon Britain during the first half of the 7th century. I’m delighted to take part in the celebratory blog tour. You’ll find an extract below but first here’s a little about what this Bernicia Tale is all about.

630 Ad. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical tale set in the world of The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell. Winter grips the land in its icy fist. Terror stalks the hills, moors and marshes of Bernicia. Livestock and men have been found ripped asunder, their bones gnawed, flesh gorged upon. People cower in their halls in fear of the monster that prowls the night. King Edwin sends his champions, Bassus, Octa and band of trusted thegns, to hunt down the beast and to rid his people of this evil. Bassus leads the warriors into the chill wastes of the northern winter, and they soon question whether they are the hunters or the prey. Death follows them as they head deeper into the ice-rimed marshes, and there is ever only one ending for the mission: a welter of blood that will sow the seeds of a tale that will echo down through the ages.

Reviews
The Serpent Sword
Blood and Blade

Extract

The scream silenced the mead hall like a slap to the face of a noisy child.

A chill ran through the throng. The brittle laughter died on lips that quickly twisted from smiles to scowls. The warm hubbub of moments before was shattered as easily as the thin skin of ice that formed on the puddles in the courtyard outside.

One of the hounds looked up from where it gnawed a bone by the hearth fire and whimpered.

Ælfhere, the scop, lowered his lyre, the last, interrupted notes, jangling in the air.

Octa set aside the mead horn he had been drinking from. His senses were dulled by the drink, but not enough that the small hairs on the back of his neck did not prickle with the sound of anguish that came from outside the hall. He turned to his friend, Bassus, who sat on his left. The huge warrior’s brow furrowed. Bassus met his gaze and opened his mouth, but before he could speak, another scream rent the chill night that smothered the great hall.

There were words in that scream.

“The night-walker! The sceadugenga brings death!”

Night-walker. Shadow-goer.

Octa felt bony fingers of terror scratch down his spine. He shuddered, hoping none of the other king’s warriors would notice. He had not long before joined the king’s gesithas and some of the men were wary of him, he knew.

They had feasted; eating, drinking and boasting. Trying to ignore the one who haunted the dark winter paths. They had prayed, some to the old gods, others to the king’s new Christ god, in the hope that the night devil would prove to be nothing more than a wild animal. A man could hunt an animal. Arrows would pierce a wolf or a bear’s flesh. But deep down they had all been expecting more screams in the night. More death stalking the shadows. Few of those in the hall had seen the remains of the people who had been slain by the beast, but the tales of the corpses, ripped and raw, bones smashed, limbs removed, had reached them all. This was not the work of any animal. This was something else.

Something evil.

At the head of the hall, the imposing figure of the king surged to his feet. Edwin, King of Deira and Bernicia, pointed to the end of the hall where the door wardens stood.

“Open the doors,” he said, his tone commanding.

The shorter of the two warriors who guarded the door hesitated. There was a murmur in the great hall. There were many present who did not wish to see the stout wooden doors opened to the night. For who knew what horrors dwelt there in the darkness?

“Lord?”

“You heard my words clearly,” Edwin said. “Open the doors.”

Another scream, closer now.

“I am king of the folk of these lands. I will not leave them outside in the dark while we feast in the fire-glow and warmth of my hall. Now, open the doors.”

“Wait, lord king,” Bassus’ rumbling voice stilled the door ward’s hand before he had lifted the bar. Edwin looked to his champion, arching an eyebrow at the interruption.

“You are right, of course,” said Bassus, “but let us arm ourselves first. We know nothing of what awaits us beyond the walls of Gefrin’s hall.”

Edwin nodded. The door wards quickly distributed the weapons that had been left in their care. A hall crammed with drunken warriors carrying swords and seaxes was not wise, hence the precaution, but now protection of the king and the hall was more important.

Octa retrieved his seax. The weapon had been a gift from his uncle Selwyn and the smooth antler handle was comforting. For an instant his mind was filled with memories of his home in Cantware. Edita and Rheda. His mother. Beobrand. Would he ever see them again? As usual when he thought of them, he felt a pang of regret, a twist of guilt at having abandoned them. But Bernicia was his home now. Edwin his king, and the men around him, his sword-brothers.

He readied himself with the rest of the men near the doors of the great hall of Gefrin. Women and children huddled at the far end of the room, with the priests and the queen.

The reek of fear-sweat filled the air as another wail came from just outside.

“Open the doors!” roared Edwin.

The door wardens lifted the bar and swung the doors open.

Cold night air cut into the hall’s muggy warmth like an icicle plunged into pliant flesh.

For a moment, nobody breathed. The hall was silent, all eyes staring into the utter blackness of the night.

Then, stepping out of the dark and into the frame of the doorway, came a vision from nightmare. Blood-slick and steaming, staggered a figure into the hall. The men stepped back, without thinking, wishing to be distanced from this ghoul. The women gasped. The dark-robed priest, Paulinus, raised the amulet he wore at his neck and recited words of magic in the secret tongue of the Christ followers.

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

kin-of-cain-blog-tour