Category Archives: Blog Tour

**Lying and Dying Blog Tour**

Today, I’m delighted to be included on the blog tour for Graham Brack’s ‘Lying and Dying‘, the first book in the Josef Slonský series.

The body of a young woman is found strangled by the side of the road.

There are no obvious clues to what happened, apart from the discovery of a large amount of cash concealed on her person.

The brilliant, but lazy, Lieutenant Josef Slonský is put in charge of the case. With a wry sense of humour, a strong stubborn streak and a penchant for pastries, Slonský is not overly popular with the rest of the police force. But he is paired with the freshly-graduated, overly-eager Navrátil, whom he immediately takes under his wing.

When fingers start to point inwards to someone familiar with police operations, Slonský and Navrátil are put in a difficult position.

If what they suspect is true, how deep does the corruption run? Are they willing to risk their careers in their pursuit of the truth?

Anyone could be lying – and others may be in danger of dying…

I’m sure the extract that I’ve got here will whet your appetite for the book. Get your copy now. 

Vic x

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Chapter 4

The following morning was bright, warm and sunny. Outside the surviving birdlife of Prague was singing fortissimo, or so it seemed to Navrátil. A prolonged shower did little to help the sensation of devils prodding the backs of his eyeballs with their tridents, and nothing in his pantry did anything to make him believe that there was the remotest chance that it would stay down if he could once swallow it.

He was therefore more than a little surprised to arrive at work to find Slonský with his feet on his desk while he attacked a párek and a takeaway coffee.

‘How can you eat that? Or anything else, for that matter?’

‘I have a constitution moulded by the Communist years. If you’d been picky about your food then you’d have starved.’

‘Don’t you feel even a bit queasy?’

‘Should I?’ Slonský asked innocently, as if the idea that a heavy drinking bout might affect your appetite the next day had never occurred to him. 

‘Never mind. I’d better find some water.’

Navrátil was halfway down the corridor when he heard Slonský call after him.

‘If you can’t find water, try some Hungarian beer. It’s the next best thing.’

When Navrátil returned, Slonský was looking thoughtful.

‘It was something you said last night that inspired me,’ he explained.

‘I said? What did I say?’

‘You said it was a shame she didn’t have her name sewn into her knickers.’

‘You said that, sir!’

‘Did I? Then I’m brighter than I thought. Anyway, how did the murderer know that she didn’t have her name sewn into her knickers?’

‘Maybe he didn’t care.’

‘He took the handbag.’

‘Well, since he made love to her, he probably got to see her underwear.’

‘Do you look, Navrátil?’

‘Eh?’

‘When you’re with a woman, do you check her pants out?’

‘Well, I … I haven’t … but if I did …’

‘Exactly. It’s an unnatural act. But whether he did or didn’t, he might have handled her clothes. That’s what I asked Novák.’

‘And?’

‘Nothing. Now, she may have taken off her own clothes and put them back on herself. And perhaps he wore gloves to dispose of the body. But I can’t picture anyone going to bed with a girl and wearing gloves while he did it.’

‘Which rules out a crime of passion?’

‘Well, he was farsighted enough to have gloves there. It was a cold night so he may have just had them with him, but this begins to look premeditated. Which is good, Navrátil. Where there’s a plan, we can discover it. It’s the sudden, irrational killing that is hardest to detect.’

‘So we have a man who takes a woman out, buys her dinner, takes her back to his flat or hers, makes love to her, kills her then dumps her body where it will be found quickly.’

‘Where did you get the bit about dinner?’ 

‘The stomach contents. Novák’s report doesn’t sound like the kind of meal someone would cook for themselves. Asparagus, for example.’

‘We could waste a lot of time tracking down shops that have asparagus in February, but let’s run with your idea for a minute. If that’s the case, they must have eaten in a restaurant somewhere that has asparagus on the menu.’

Navrátil’s face sank.

‘I can see you’re one step ahead of me, lad. But it’ll take a lifetime to visit all Prague’s restaurants. We’ll do it if we have to, but for the moment let’s try the wholesale greengrocers. See how easy it is to get asparagus and if anyone can tell us who has been buying it. Might narrow things down a bit.’

When Navrátil returned, Slonský had his feet on his desk, a coffee in his hand, and a broad smile on his face.

‘Almost all the big hotels, sir. Not too many restaurants have bought asparagus lately, but it still gives us a lot to do.’

‘Not necessarily, my boy,’ Slonský replied. ‘The great Czech public has come to our aid.’

He slid a brown paper envelope across the desk. Navrátil opened it cautiously to find a single photograph within.

‘No note?’

‘No note. Recognise the girl?’

‘It’s her! It’s the victim.’

‘And who is she having dinner with?’

Navrátil scrutinised the picture closely before his jaw dropped.

‘Isn’t that —’

‘It is. Now isn’t that a turn-up for the book?’

Lying and Dying‘ by Graham Brack is available to download now. You can find Graham on Twitter

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**What Was Lost Blog Tour**

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Today it’s my turn on the blog tour for ‘What Was Lost‘ by Jean Levy. 

Sarah has no memories. She just knows she was found, near death, on a beach miles from her London home. Now she is part of a medical experiment to see whether her past can be retrieved.

But bad things seemed to have happened before she disappeared. The police are interested in her hidden memories too. A nice man she meets in the supermarket appears to have her best interests at heart. He seems to understand her – almost as if he knows her…

As she fights to regain her memories and her sense of self, it becomes clear that people are hiding things from her. Who are they protecting? Does Sarah really want the truth?

We’re lucky to have an extract from this excellent psychological thriller today. Once you’ve read it, I’m sure you’ll be as enthralled as I was. Read on after the extract for my review of this novel. 

Vic x

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Episode Two

As far as I can remember, the day began with waiting. Of course, I had by now come to realise that cats care very little about the passage of time. Only people care about that. So I stood patiently and watched the black and white cat sniff the newspaper around the outside of the plate, lick some invisible scrap of tuna from the newsprint, re-sniff the plate and then, without casting even a glance in my direction to offer some gesture of humble gratitude, pad purposefully towards the cat flap and nose its way through. I had no idea who that cat belonged to. If it had a name I was not aware of it. In fact, my association with this animal depended entirely upon the fact that the door that opened from my dank backyard into my kitchen included this special, cat-sized flap. I had considered resealing it. Parcel tape would probably have been enough to stop the ungrateful animal nudging its way through. But there was always the worry that the parcel tape might turn up at its edges and look a mess and then I’d regret my decision. There was also the possibility that I might miss the cat. Sometimes it purred. I might have missed the purring. 

I watched the flap for a few moments then hurried over to the window to catch a last flash of black tail as it disappeared over into the yard next door. The cat was gone. So I turned my attention to the list on the work surface, took a pencil and added the word TUNA, folded the slip of paper into my jean’s pocket, replaced the pencil and walked over to the back door to confirm that the two bolts were secure. I checked that my wallet, driving licence, notebook with attached pencil, mobile phone and car keys were in my bag, touched the kettle and washing machine plugs three times each, rechecked the back door then hurried out of the kitchen before any doubts might set in. I knew it would be all right once I was in the car. I was always all right in the car. 

*

The supermarket was anywhere between ten and twenty minutes away depending on traffic, and all the way there I played over the morning so far, from the point when I’d been ready to leave and that black and white cat had popped in through the flap and purred. So now it was after nine and the car park was busy. Too busy. But I knew that driving straight back home would not have been the right thing to do. 

*

Inside, the aisles were still sparsely populated. So it would probably be OK. I grabbed a trolley and navigated it straight through the opposing rows of crisps and biscuits towards the central walkway. A sharp left took me into the tea and coffee aisle, which stretched deep into the rear of the supermarket. Then, avoiding the stack of Easter eggs abutting the central aisle, I pushed on to cereals, halted my trolley and observed the choices before me. So many choices. So many rectangular boxes, diminishing off into the distance. An intimidating range of nuts, dried fruits, seeds, wheat / no wheat, oats to absorb cholesterol, low salt, low fat, high fibre, additives / no additives stretched out before me. I threw myself into reading labels, studying carbohydrate contents, pushing my trolley further in past illustrations of happy, healthy other thirty-five year olds, whose lives were perfect because they consumed the correct breakfast cereal. The happy images began to coagulate into one multi-coloured muddle of good advice, manufacturers’ commitments, occasional warnings. I could feel myself diffusing into the options that surrounded me. The familiar stirrings of panic were rising up from just below my diaphragm. I controlled my breathing, observing the oat-coloured floor tiles, the matt surface of a shoe. Its partner shoe hovering slightly off the ground. My eyes traced up the many-deniered tights to a woolly hemline, thick, wintry cloth, grey hair, an outstretched arm, an aged hand reaching hopelessly for a small packet of cornflakes on the top shelf. My own crisis was suddenly dwarfed by the plight of this diminutive shopper. I watched her sag in frustration and help herself to a family-sized box from the shelf below. I had no choice but to intervene. 

‘Shall I try and reach?’ I whispered.

The woman glanced round. ‘Oh, would you, dear?’ She replaced her family-sized box and turned to me, wobbling her head slightly as she watched me ease one of the smaller boxes from the top shelf. I handed it over. She thanked me. I smiled graciously and watched her round the end of the aisle before stretching up, taking an identical box and placing it into my own trolley. I stood for a moment staring back along the aisle of wasted opportunity then, clenching the handle of my trolley so hard that it must have looked as if my knucklebones might burst through my skin, I hurried away from the cereal. Justifying my decision. Cornflakes are good for you.

There was a feeling of openness about the fruit and vegetable terrain. Here the produce was arranged on long, sloping stalls. It was like a huge, sterile homage to those fairy-tale markets, where ragamuffins stole peaches and a boy might trade his cow for a handful of magic beans. I brushed past a tall stands of fresh herbs and the air filled with the lush, calming fragrance of basil. A startling yellow and black promotion demanded: BUY ONE GET ONE FREE. I ignored it, hurried on past strawberries and grapes, grabbed a bunch of green bananas, then wheeled my trolley back and helped myself to a pot of basil, re-read the promotion, selected a second pot, put both pots in my trolley, picked one of the pots up and put it back on the stand. Why would anyone want two pots of basil? One’s enough. Why on earth was I getting myself wound up about a pot of basil?

But it wasn’t really about the basil. Or the cornflakes. I knew that It was about deciding. Not just deciding what to choose. It was all those other decisions about what not to choose. Because every choice involves not merely the possibility of choosing the wrong thing but an endless number of possibilities of not choosing the right thing. Too many decisions about not choosing. Dr Gray always insisted: ‘If there are two many decisions, just take a deep breath and walk away.’ So I had walked away. I’d walked so far away that there were now six mountainous banks of food between me and those unchosen boxes of cereal. I took a deep breath, fumbled in my pocket and pulled out my list:

BANANAS

CEREAL

CAT BISCUITS

TUNA

I read it several times to make sure. Then, just as I was folding it back into my pocket, I glanced up and noticed a perfect read and green apple rolling towards me. Arcing towards my foot. Impact was inevitable. Inevitable. And that’s when it all began. Well, just some of it began. Although, in truth, it really did all begin with an apple. 

****

What Was Lost‘:
Review.

I whipped through ‘What Was Lost‘, a thrilling story of Sarah and the amnesia she endures. I was hooked from the opening ‘episode’.

I found it easy to empathise with Sarah and the predicament she found herself in. The sense of frustration at her loss of control pervaded every page as did an uneasy sense of something being held back. In an age of the unreliable narrator, I was unsure who could be trusted in this novel, giving this story more depth. 

The foreboding felt by Sarah was almost palpable at times and, as the story developed, I enjoyed getting to know certain characters at the same time as Sarah made their acquaintance. Conversely, some of the unlikeable characters proved completely realistic and accurately portrayed. 

Levy’s background in psychology shines through in her knowledge of psychological conditions and the impact of trauma on patients. 

Jean Levy wilfully misdirects the reader on a number of occasions and, despite some fantastical elements, I found ‘What Was Lost‘ utterly compelling. 

Vic x

**Summer at Hollyhock House Blog Tour**

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Today I’m pleased to welcome Cathy Bussey, the author of ‘Summer at Hollyhock House‘ to the blog to talk about writing a realistic heroine. This topic is of particular interest to me and I hope it’ll be of use to you too when considering how to make original, realistic characters. 

Cathy is an author, journalist and hopeless romantic who wrote her first book at the tender age of six. Entitled ‘Tarka the Otter‘, according to Cathy it was a shameless rip-off of the Henry Williamson classic of the same name, and the manuscript was lost after she sent it to her penpal and never heard a jot from her since. 

Fortunately reception to her writing became more favourable and she spent ten years working for a range of newspapers and magazines covering everything from general elections and celebrity scandals to cats stuck up trees and village fetes. She has been freelance since 2011 and written for ‘The Telegraph’, ‘Red Online’, ‘Total Women’s Cycling’ and other lifestyle and cycling publications and websites. 

She is the author of three non-fiction books and her debut and thankfully non-plagiarised novel ‘Summer at Hollyhock House‘ has been published by Sapere Books. 

Cathy lives on the leafy London/Surrey border with her husband, two children and a dog with only two facial expressions: hungry and guilty. Her hobbies include mountain biking, photography, wandering around outside getting lost, fantasising about getting her garden under control, reading, looking at pretty things on Instagram and drinking tea. You can find her there, on Twitter or visit her website. 

My thanks to Cathy for sharing her experience with us. 

Vic x

Cathy Bussey

Writing the heroine you want to be
By Cathy Bussey

The stories of women’s lives have always gripped and fascinated me. I grew up with chick lit and I’m firmly part of the Bridget Jones generation. The Shopaholic series, Sex and the City – these were the cornerstones of my literary and emotional education.

I adore the intelligence with which women write about the issues that affect us all. Love and romance, friendship and family, mental and physical health, children, ageing parents – there’s so much in everyday life to explore that I’ve never tired of the women’s fiction genre. But. 

There’s always a but, isn’t there?

I always struggled to find heroines with whom I could truly identify. 

The classic city girl who can’t get a hair out of place and screams at the sight of a spider – that ain’t me. 

I can’t walk in high heels since I had children, nor do I want to. Glossy shopping sprees, makeovers, shoes, handbags, manicures, Prosecco, spa weekends, nights out with the girls – the stereotypical setting of chick-lit doesn’t reflect my internal reality. I’ve never once fantasised about moving to New York.

I have only once found a heroine that spoke to my other, wilder side. 

One of the best romcoms I ever read was called Going Ape and it came free with a copy of Cosmo. I can’t even find it on Google so I assume it’s out of print, but it had an enormous impact on me. It was set on a monkey sanctuary and the heroine was a scientist. I adored her. She was no less flawed and quirky and adorable than Bridget, Becky, Carrie et al, but she got her hands dirty. Very dirty, actually. 

So when I came to create my own heroine, Faith, I wanted to write her for women like me. For girls like the girl I used to be. 

She’s a nature girl, a bit of a wildflower, she’s outdoorsy and active and energetic. She rides bikes down gnarly trails and digs ponds with a shovel. She gets the guy – or does she? – on her own terms. 

She represents a different definition of femininity, and one with which I can both identify, and aspire to. I created her for me, and I really hope somewhere out there other women might feel that I created her a little bit for them, too. 

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**Smart Moves Blog Tour** Extract

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I’ve been chosen to open the blog tour for the lovely Adrian Magson and his new novel ‘Smart Moves‘. Please join me in wishing Adrian, and his publishers Dome Press, a very happy publication day.

International troubleshooter Jake Foreman loses his job, house and wife all in one day. And when an impulsive move lands him in even deeper water – the kind that could lose him his life – he decides it’s time to make some smart decisions.

The trouble is, knowing the right moves and making them is a whole different game. And Jake, who has been happily rubbing along things he always suspected were just a shade away from being dodgy, finds it all too easy to go with the flow.

Now he’s got to start learning new tricks. If he doesn’t, he could end up dead.

It’s my pleasure to present to you a snippet of Adrian’s newest release: ‘Smart Moves‘. I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for more. 

Vic x

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Smart Moves‘ by Adrian Magson:
Extract

I never thought of guys having bad hair days. 

Bad razor days, sure. Relentless stubble and scraped skin is no joke – try kissing my grandmother. Bad head days, too, from much of the wrong kind of booze. But that’s commonplace for anybody with a real life. Some problems, though, can’t be overcome with a slap of skin balm or a handful of pills.

‘You’re laying me off?’ The words dropped into the room like a stun grenade and rolled across the carpet. I stared at my boss, Niall Dunckley, in disbelief.

‘Sign of the times, Jake,’ he replied flatly. ‘Sorry.’ I wondered if that was the beginning of a smile threatening to edge past his bloodless lips. They went well with his fish eyes and the strands of lank hair carefully arranged over his balding head. The overall effect gave him the appearance of an undertaker’s assistant. The kind who stays late at work for all the wrong reasons.

‘Why?’

Pathetic response, I know. But being laid off is having someone say, ‘We don’t need you.’ Or, ‘Get the fuck out of here.’ Or, ‘We found someone we like better.’

Even in this business – what am I saying, especially in this business – it’s akin to a death sentence. A bullet behind the ear. A quiet visit from a bad person on a dark night. I mean, I didn’t know for sure if that had ever happened, but people talk. You hear stuff.

I should explain. I have this oddball kind of job; I work for a side-line operation in a multi-divisional business called HP&P. Nobody knows or cares what the initials stand for, or precisely what the company’s core business is. But I know it has its fingers in a great many pies from civil engineering to shipping to nightclubs – and allegedly, a few things in between. 

It’s the in-betweens which we’re encouraged not to ask about. 

Not that I’m in that sector. I’m a project troubleshooter, and it’s my job to solve problems in faraway places. A gentle talk here, a nudge there, a discreet payment if something gets stuck in the pipeline, that kind of thing. The company operates on a time-sensitive schedule, and delays are unhelpful to the bottom line. As are glitches caused by local officials trying to muscle in and cause problems for their own ends. 

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t use physical pressure – I don’t have to. A sweetener with a local regional governor or a union boss usually does the trick, from Azerbaijan to Zambia. If that doesn’t work, I make a report to Niall Dunckley at HQ in London, and that’s the last I hear of it. Because by then all the talking and offers and mild threats of layoffs will have been exhausted and it’s time to call in the big guns and for me to catch a plane out. I don’t actually know what the big guns are, but that’s where I’m encouraged to turn and look the other way. 

The job pays well and I rarely get to follow up on a previous visit. If I do, it’s usually bad news because the project got canned and there’s a lot of name-calling going in. I’m just there to see that everybody knows whose fault it really is: theirs. 

Over the three years I’ve been doing this I’ve managed to refrain from asking too many questions. It’s one of the main requirements of my job description. Come to think of it, it’s the only requirement. Don’t ask, don’t nose, don’t look. 

And because I find it easier to take the money and not rock the boat, I’ve gone along with it. My bad, as the kids say. Still not sure what that means but it sounds about right. It doesn’t mean I’m dead from the neck up and haven’t occasionally put two and two together and made seven. Being suspicious and doing something about it isn’t always that simple. Or wise. 

Smart Moves‘ is published by Dome Press and is available now. 

**Sky’s the Limit Blog Tour**

Sky's the Limit Blog Tour Poster

Looking for a feel-good summer read this weekend? Check out ‘Sky’s the Limit‘ by Janie Millman. 

I’m delighted to be taking part in Janie’s blog tour today. She’s kindly agreed to answer my questions so that we can get to know her better. My thanks to Janie and Dome Press for allowing me to be involved. 

Vic x

Janie Millman Headshot

Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
We went on holiday to Marrakech and fell in love with the place. We met some amazing characters, stayed in a fabulously quirky riad with a beautiful but eccentric owner and gradually the germ of Sky’s the Limit was born.

I live in South West France in a town called Castillon La Bataille.  We are in the middle of one of the most famous wine regions of the world, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I incorporated that into a book too.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Locations inspire me. I love discovering new places and meeting new people. I guess subconsciously I am always thinking about stories and characters. They just seem to pop into my head – I’ve always had a very vivid imagination – sometimes too vivid for my own good!

I am also co-owner of Chez Castillon – we host writing & painting courses and retreats and when we are not hosting those we take in wedding guests from a nearby chateau – I have enough ammunition from the characters that pass through our door for the next ten novels!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I don’t really have a favourite character – I really love Elf in Sky’s the Limit and I loved George and Drew – aka Miss Honey Berry – in my first novel Life’s A Drag.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
If by ‘pantster’ you mean flying by the seat of my pants then a bit of both really. 

I do have a rough idea of the plot. I like to know where the story is going, but I also like to be flexible – I like it when things suddenly happen – when new characters suddenly emerge and take me in a different direction.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Yes, I can read when I am writing but I usually choose something that is a million miles away from what I am working on – unless of course I am reading for research.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given and who was it from?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is: ‘you cannot edit a blank page.’ I cannot actually remember for certain who told me that, but I think it may have been the lovely author Jane Wenham-Jones.

What can readers expect from your books?
They can certainly expect the unexpected! 

I hope that readers will love my characters, and I hope they find themselves experiencing new locations, new sounds, smells and tastes.  

I hope they lose themselves in the plot, and I very much hope that they don’t want the book to end and that the stories and cast stay with them for a long while.

I want them to laugh and cry and I want them to think.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Just Write. Get words on the page – don’t be frightened – you need to enjoy the whole experience.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love it when the story starts to come together; I love it when the unexpected happens; I also love it when the characters misbehave  – although not too much!

I don’t like the solitude, the doubts that creep in and the frustration when the words don’t flow and the characters appear one-dimensional. But that passes…. usually!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes I have just finished my third book – well the first draft, so we are still some way from the finishing line. It is another dual location novel, set in Cambridge and Crete.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
When I wrote The End to my fist novel Life’s A Drag. I finished it in Bordeaux station when on our way to Arcachon for a few days holiday.

I remember crying because it was the first book I had ever written and I hadn’t really known if I could do it. My husband bought champagne and I spent the holiday dreaming of bestsellers and films… though, that was before the reality set in!

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Sky’s the Limit:
Review.

Sky is devastated when she finds that her husband is in love with her oldest friend Nick. Believing she has lost the two most important people in her life, she travels to Marrakesh on her own. During the trip, Sky meets up with Gail who’s on a mission to track down the father of her child. 

Sky’s the Limit is a great summer read. It takes readers to Morocco and France with an interesting cast of characters who jump off the page. Throughout the story, the vivid characters experience joys they didn’t expect to find which makes this a heart-warming read. 

The description of the places is evocative and atmospheric, and the Moroccan heat seeps out of every line. Millman’s descriptions are rich and her attention to detail is very strong. 

Sky’s the Limit is a light read that’s perfect for the beach. Even if you don’t have a beach, read this novel and prepare to be transported. 

**Death Rope Blog Tour** Extract

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I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Leigh Russell’s newest Geraldine Steel thriller: ‘Death Rope‘. 

Mark Abbott is dead. His sister refuses to believe it was suicide, but only Detective Sergeant Geraldine Steel will listen. When other members of Mark’s family disappear, Geraldine’s suspicions are confirmed. Taking a risk, Geraldine finds herself confronted by an adversary deadlier than any she has faced before. Her boss Ian is close, but will he arrive in time to save her, or is this the end for Geraldine Steel?

Read on for a tantalising extract from ‘Death Rope‘.

Thanks to No Exit Press and, of course, Leigh for having me on this fab blog tour!

Vic x

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Death Rope‘ extract.

Reaching her in waves, the shrill sound seemed to come from somewhere inside her head. It was a few seconds before she realised she was listening to her own screams.

For an instant she stood transfixed, a helpless spectator, before she ran outside, bawling for help. Thankfully the gardener was there, and he followed her back into the hall where her husband was hanging from the banister.

As she fell silent, she could hear him grunting with the effort of supporting the body. His arms clasped around her husband’s legs, he struggled to stop the rope from pulling taut. Above them, Mark’s arms swung limply, and his head hung at an odd angle. She was aware of the gardener’s mouth moving before she realised he was yelling at her to call an ambulance. Trying to nod, she couldn’t move. Her eyes were glued to a ghoulish caricature of a familiar face, bloated tongue protruding between dry lips, tiny red dots of blood speckling the whites of bulging eyes. She stared, mesmerised, at a drop of saliva crawling down his chin, trying to work out whether it was still moving.

The gardener glared at her, and she realised he was still shouting at her to call for help. As if in a dream, she reached for her phone and dialled 999.

A voice on the line responded with unreal composure, assuring her that help was on its way.

‘What does that mean?’ she gabbled. ‘When will they get here?’

‘They’re on their way.’

Time seemed to hang suspended, like the body.

They waited.

Looking down, she struggled to control an urge to salvage her shopping: tomatoes had rolled across the floor, along with other soft foods she had carefully packed on top of packets and tins. One tomato had already been trodden into the carpet. While she was dithering she heard a siren, followed by hammering at the door, and then her own voice, oddly calm, inviting uniformed men into the house.

Of course they were too late to save him. She had known that all along.

Chapter 1

Geraldine smiled at her adopted sister. Despite her complaints about disturbed nights, Celia looked happier than Geraldine had seen her in a long time. Her month-old baby snuffled gently in his sleep as she rocked him gently in her arms.

‘Would you like to hold him?’ Celia asked.

Still smiling, Geraldine shook her head. ‘It might wake him up. Anyway, I really should get going.’

‘It’s still early,’ Celia protested. ‘Even you can’t pretend you’ve got to get back for work tonight. It’s Sunday, for goodness sake. Why don’t you stay overnight and go home tomorrow?’

As a detective sergeant working on murder investigations, Geraldine’s job was no respecter of the time of day, but she wasn’t on a case just then. All the same she shook her head. Even though there was no pressing reason for her to hurry away, she had a long journey ahead of her, and she was back on call in the morning.

‘He’s lovely,’ she repeated for the hundredth time. Privately she thought that her tiny new nephew resembled a pink frog.

‘Don’t get up. We don’t want to disturb him.’

Celia gave a sleepy smile. ‘You’ll come back soon?’

Geraldine was quick to reassure her sister that she would return as soon as she could. She made good time, and reached home in time for supper. She had been living in York for nearly three months and, after a miserable winter, she was starting to feel settled. She was even thinking of selling her flat in London and buying somewhere in York, putting a stamp of permanence on her move. The transformation in her feelings seemed to have taken place almost overnight. One evening she had gone to bed feeling displaced and lonely.

The following morning she had woken up unaccountably at ease in her new home. Driving to work her spirits had lifted further on seeing a bank of daffodils, bright against the deep velvety green slope below the city wall. Already, early groups of oriental visitors were beginning to throng the pavements. She wasn’t looking forward to an influx of summer tourists clogging up the bustling streets of a city that unexpectedly felt like home.

A few weeks had passed since then, and she was still undecided what to do. Celia would be disappointed if Geraldine decided to make her move to York permanent, but the idea of settling there seemed increasingly appealing with every passing week. She had to live somewhere, and York was as good a place as any. She liked it there. Besides, her oldest friend and colleague lived there. She wondered how Ian Peterson would react if he knew she was considering him in making a decision about where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

Mid-morning on Monday, Geraldine was summoned to an interview room where a member of the public was waiting to lodge a complaint. As an experienced officer, Geraldine was used to fielding vexatious accusations. With a sigh she made her way along the corridor to the room where the irate woman was waiting for her. Stocky and square-jawed, with short grey hair, she sat with trousered knees pressed together and fleshy arms folded across her chest.

‘What seems to be the problem, Ms Abbott?’ Geraldine asked as she sat down.

The grey-haired woman’s eyes glittered and her voice was unsteady. ‘I want to talk to someone about my brother’s murder.’

‘Are you saying your brother’s been murdered?’

‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.’

 ‘And is this a murder case that’s under investigation? What’s your brother’s name?’

The woman shook her head, and her ruddy face turned a deeper shade of red.

‘No, no, no. You’re not investigating it. No one’s investigating anything. Look, my brother was found hanging from a banister nine days ago.’ She leaned forward and lowered her voice.

‘They said it was suicide, but that’s simply not true.’

Geraldine frowned, and tried to look interested. She found it was usually best to let aggrieved members of the public have their say.

‘Perhaps you’d better start at the beginning. What makes you suspect your brother’s death wasn’t suicide?’

‘It’s more than a suspicion. I know my brother – that is, I knew him. There’s no way he would have taken his own life. He wasn’t that sort of a person. He was – he was a robust man, Sergeant. He loved life.’

‘Circumstances can have a devastating effect on people, even those we think we know well –’

‘Please, don’t dismiss this as the ramblings of a grieving woman. I knew my brother. He would never have killed himself. He was blessed with a cheerful disposition, and, before you say it, he didn’t suffer from depression, and he didn’t have money worries, or any problems with drink or drugs. There was nothing in his life that might have prompted him to end it. And hanging’s not the kind of death that can happen by accident.

‘No, he was murdered, I’m sure of it. I waited as long as I could before coming forward because I thought no one would believe he killed himself, but now she tells me they’re burying him on Wednesday, so we don’t have much time. I came here to plead with you to look into what happened, before it’s too late.’

Geraldine did her best to pacify the distressed woman, wondering whether Amanda Abbott was simply trying to cause trouble for her brother’s widow.

‘Do you have any evidence that your brother was murdered?

At the moment, all you’ve given me is supposition.’

Amanda shrugged her square shoulders. ‘I wasn’t there, but I know – I knew my brother. Why would he have suddenly done away with himself?’

Geraldine was faintly intrigued. Amanda didn’t strike her as the kind of woman who might be given to hysterical delusions.

‘So if he didn’t commit suicide, and it wasn’t an accident, what do you think happened?’

‘My sister-in-law did it,’ Amanda answered promptly. ‘It’s obvious. They never got on. And now she gets her hands on everything he worked for.’

‘How long were they married?’

‘Over thirty years.’

‘That’s a long time for a couple who don’t get on to stay together,’ Geraldine said quietly.

‘And she finally had enough of him and killed him, only she made it look like suicide so she could get away with it. I’m convinced that’s what happened. Nothing else makes sense.’

Geraldine almost dismissed what she was hearing as a family disagreement, but Amanda was so insistent that she agreed to look into Mark Abbott’s death.

‘Please, you have to find out what happened,’ Amanda said.

‘He was my brother and I’m not going to sit back and see her get away with it, not if I can help it. Will you keep me posted,’ she enquired as she stood up, ‘or can I come back to see how you’re getting on?’ Geraldine promised she would do her best to find out whether there might have been anything unlawful about the death.

Having seen Amanda off the premises, she went to speak to her detective chief inspector, Eileen. A large woman, about ten years older than Geraldine, she had dark hair greying at the temples, sharp features, and an air of solidity that was both reassuring and overbearing at the same time.

‘It sounds like family politics,’ Eileen said, when she had listened to Geraldine’s account. ‘The sister of the deceased is going out of her way to make trouble for his widow. Perhaps she was expecting to be mentioned in his will and is disappointed to have been left out of it?’

‘That’s what I thought. But there’s one more thing. The deceased took out a fairly hefty life insurance policy with a two-year suicide exclusion clause.’

Eileen nodded. ‘And you’re telling me the two years ran out –’

‘A week before his death. Of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t kill himself. He might have waited so his wife would benefit from the policy,’ she added, speaking more to herself than to her senior officer. ‘But there’s something about it that doesn’t feel right.’

‘If you want to make a few discreet enquiries, that’s up to you. I can’t see we’ve really got anything to investigate, but you can take a look if you like, as long as it doesn’t distract you from your work here.’ Eileen paused. ‘If every widow was accused of murdering her husband when she inherited his estate, we’d have more suspects than police officers.’

**Dancing on the Grave Blog Tour** Guest Post

I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for Zoe Sharp‘s latest novel ‘Dancing on the Grave‘. Zoe has kindly chosen to chat to us today about the real-life events that inspired her writing. 

Please be warned that this post contains information on real criminal cases so some may find it upsetting.

Vic x

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Death and Beauty: the story behind the story of standalone crime thriller, Dancing On The Grave
By Zoë Sharp

I came up with the idea behind my latest standalone crime thriller, Dancing On The Grave, around sixteen years ago, when John Allen Muhammad and his seventeen-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, shot 27 people with a Bushmaster sniper rifle, killing 17 of them. This became known as the Washington Sniper incident, although the killings took place in Maryland, Virginia and Arizona, as well as Washington DC.

I wanted to explore the motivations for a similar sniper but set on UK soil, where most types of firearms have been banned since the shootings at Hungerford and Dunblane. Also, I didn’t know what truly motivated Muhammad and Malvo, but I wanted to see if I could find a reason that my characters felt they could live with.

The sniper in my book is not a mystery man in that we meet him early on, but working out who he really is, and what really drives him, is not an easy task. I’ve always thought that defining good guys and bad guys is very much a grey area. Good guys are rarely all good, and bad guys so often have significant redeeming features. There was loyalty and a twisted honour involved here, as well as a sense of betrayal and guilt. By the end of it, I felt I could understand my sniper, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with him.

Not so easy are the driving forces behind the disturbed teenage girl who becomes his spotter. Edith is a fantasist and underachiever who is trapped in a dead-end existence and is desperate to be somebody—anybody. For her, almost anything is better than being invisible and forgotten.

The motivations of my police characters were in some ways simpler, and in other ways more complicated to work out. Grace, my CSI, is recently divorced from a wealthy husband who still loves her. She is determined to escape his smothering embrace and make her own way, but her background means few of her colleagues take her seriously, or realise the guilt she carries with her into the job.

And the young Detective Constable she ends up working with, Nick Weston, is an outsider. He came into a new area following the mother of his baby daughter, who promptly split up with him. He’s prickly in the face of resentment from his fellow officers, not to mention hiding the fact that his disastrous last undercover job cost him his nerve.

In 2010, just as I finished the first incarnation of the story that would become Dancing On The Grave, Derrick Bird went on the rampage in west Cumbria, killing twelve people and injuring a further eleven before killing himself. It made me put the novel aside for a long time and it was only recently, with the distance provided by time, that I was able to get it out and work on it again. Even so, there are aspects of the story that stay with me. It’s one of those that gets its teeth into you and doesn’t seem to want to let go.

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Zoë Sharp was born in Nottinghamshire, but spent her childhood living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. She co-built a house in the Eden Valley area of the Lake District, where ‘Dancing On The Grave‘ is set. She now lives a peripatetic lifestyle, based around writing, sailing, house renovation, and looking after other people’s pets.