Category Archives: Review

Review: ‘Robbing the Dead’ by Tana Collins

A small Scottish university town is in thrown into chaos following a grizzly murder and a targeted bombing. Rumours abound of a terrorist plot which may or may not be linked to the disappearance of a soldier and lecturer.

DCI Jim Carruthers, having recently moved back to Castletown to get over his marriage break-up, finds himself dropped into the middle of a seemingly ever-expanding investigation.

In order to stop the violence and solve the crime, Carruthers must work with DS Andrea Fletcher – who has her own problems – to catch the perpetrators. However, the appearance of Jim’s old enemy, terror expert McGhee, adds further complications to the investigation.

Robbing the Dead poses many interesting questions particularly in our ever-changing world. Recent events – Brexit, the attack on London last week and the death of Martin McGuinness – added so much depth to this story.

There are lots of narrative strands to keep the reader interested and

Tana Collins has created two really compelling characters in Carruthers and Fletcher and there is plenty of potential for them to appear in more books.

Vic x

Review: ‘High Force’ by LJ Ross

high-force

I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I’ve encountered lots of people who are obsessed with LJ Ross’s DCI Ryan series – and the man himself. Having read ‘High Force’, I can understand why.

‘High Force’ may be the fifth DCI Ryan novel but don’t worry if you haven’t read the other books in the series, this novel can be read as a standalone.

Set in Newcastle, Northumberland and County Durham, ‘High Force’ follows DCI Ryan and his team as they track ‘The Hacker’, Ryan’s nemesis who has escaped from prison and appears intent on settling some old scores. Not content with having previously killed Ryan’s sister, ‘The Hacker’ has taken one of Ryan’s team hostage and continues to taunt him with a number of grisly murders.

I really enjoyed this compelling narrative which combined police procedural with criminal psychology. LJ Ross evokes place very well and the dynamics between the characters make this a really believable novel that I didn’t want to put down.

I will definitely be reading more LJ Ross.

Vic x

Review: ‘Becoming’ by Chris Ord

Becoming

‘Becoming’ is a thoughtful, unique book regarding identity, morals and the idea of “community”.

The setting of Holy Island, and Northumberland in general, made this book more enjoyable for me because, thanks to Ord’s descriptions, I could imagine the action taking place in the wild coastal and countryside settings.

The characters in this novel are well-drawn and Gaia, the main protagonist, is a brilliant representation of a teenage girl. Comparisons may be drawn between Gaia and Katniss Everdeen but for all the right reasons. Chris Ord manages to capture the juxtaposition between being a vulnerable teenager and headstrong, principled young woman well.

If you like your books fast-paced and full of moral dilemmas alongside some excellent character development and beautiful imagery, ‘Becoming’ is the book for you!

Vic x

Review: ‘The Confession of Stella Moon’ by Shelley Moon

Stella Moon

Shelley Day’s debut novel, The Confession of Stella Moon, pulls you in from the first page and doesn’t let you go, even after the final page has been turned.

Stella Moon confessed to killing her mother on her eighteenth birthday. Now she’s served her time and is determined to start over but some things need to be put to rest before Stella can begin to think about her future.

A sense of claustrophobia pervades this novel, cloying and at times unbearable. I rushed through this story, partly because I couldn’t bear the tension! Day conjures up a strong sense of Stella’s rattled state of mind. The juxtaposition between the beautiful scenery of Northumberland and the hideous acts that occur is very well developed.

I was completely immersed in the story which is no mean feat. No wonder The Confession of Stella Moon was on the longlist for Not the Man Booker prize. I can’t wait to read what Shelley Day produces next.

Vic x

Matching the Evidence Blog Tour: Graham Smith on the Creation of Characters.

Yesterday saw the release of Graham Smith’s short story Matching the Evidence. I feel very privileged to have Graham on the blog today to talk about the creation of characters. Following Graham’s post, you’ll get my review of his latest release. 

Graham has been massively pivotal in my life this year, encouraging me to set up the North East Noir at the Bar. In addition to that, his Crime and Publishment course setting me on the road to finally completing my novel. 

Congratulations on another job well done, Graham! 

Vic x

Matching the Evidence

Creation of Characters

Creating a character is about so much more than just picturing one face and writing about them. Sure every book has a lead character who more often than not is the narrator or focal point, but unless the book is Robinson Crusoe, you’ve got to think about the support characters. (Even Crusoe had a Man Friday)

These are the colleagues, the lovers, the criminals, the victims, the witnesses and a whole host of other people who are there to populate the story. To give the lead someone to interrogate. Or fall in love with. Or scheme against. Or pursue in a clichéd game of feline and rodent.

How our character interacts with these secondary characters is critical to the story’s success. A faithful sidekick can save the day. An over-bearing boss can haul the hero off the case. A long-suffering wife can walk out.

Every one of these relationships affects the story or character in one way or another, meaning us authors have to plot much more than just the plot. We have to consider each character in their own right and work out how the lead’s behaviour will affect them and their lives.

One of my favourite authors is Craig Russell and in his Lennox series he pulls off a marvellous trick of having cameo appearances from fantastic characters. He gives them no more than three of four pages of the story to themselves – in one case the character only got three lines – but they are scene stealers due to the way his lead Lennox  (as if it wasn’t obvious) reacts to and with them. I am such a fan of these “throwaway” (my word not his) characters that I have tried to emulate them in my own writing.

All of the characters in a novel have an agenda. All have hopes, fears and desires. This makes it imperative to never forget, “every character is the hero of their own story.”

Lots of famous leads have support characters who do more than just stand around doing nothing. Some of the best examples are

  • Sherlock Holmes had Dr Watson as a sidekick (explaining device) and Moriaty as a nemesis
  • Elvis Cole has Jo Pike as a friend who provides muscle as does Myron Bolitar in his friend Winn
  • Logan McRae has a co-dependent relationship with the incorrigible DI Roberta Steele
  • Bond has Blofeld as a nemesis
  • Jack Reacher has … (I’ll stop now before it becomes obvious I haven’t thought this through)

Whenever I introduce a new character; I have to spend a few minutes, or moments if I’m unusually lucky, working out what’s going through their heads. Are they afraid, or angry, or just plain bored? However they’re feeling, I have to depict them in a way that shows their emotions and allows my erstwhile lead DI Harry Evans continue to wreak his own brand of havoc.

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Review: ‘Matching the Evidence‘ by Graham Smith.

Although ‘Matching the Evidence‘ is the third in the DI Harry Evans and Major Crimes Team series, don’t worry if this is your first meeting with Harry – ‘Matching the Evidence’, published by Caffeine Nights, can be read as a standalone story.

On the surface, this may look like the Major Crimes Team being punished for their prior bad behaviour and put on crowd control for a football match between Carlisle United and Millwall. However, things aren’t quite as they seem…

As always with Graham Smith’s writing, ‘Matching the Evidence‘ is dark, gritty and packs plenty of punches. There’s a real tension that runs throughout this story and, due to its length, you will want to devour it in one sitting. Not only do you get this brilliant short story but you also get a sneak preview of ‘I Know Your Secret’ – Harry Evans’s next case.

The Harry Evans series tackles a range of modern issues with a real grit and it looks like this cop is one who will be around for years to come.

Vic x

Review: ‘Not Working’ by Lisa Owens

Not Working

Claire is in her late 20s, she’s quit her “creative communications” (i.e. marketing) job in search of fulfilment. Her boyfriend, the supportive but frustrated Luke, is a brain surgeon. Can you imagine feeling unfulfilled and living with someone as important and single-minded as a brain surgeon?!

As a millennial, I identify with Claire. I may be a wee bit older than her but I understand this early adulthood crisis well.

Through a series of vignettes and thoughts, Lisa Owens manages to touch on scenarios that every woman my age will identify with. When Claire isn’t falling out with Luke over sexy colleagues or marriage and/or babies, she’s lying to her gym instructor about how much alcohol she consumes. Claire, in my opinion, is every woman. OK, so she’s not the ones who’ve got their life together – or seem to, at least – but she is every woman I know in one way or another. So you may be married but perhaps your mum isn’t speaking to you. Maybe you’ve got a great job but your friends think you drink too much. Claire is a composite of all our neuroses in one. And as much as there are scenes in this book where I despair for Claire, I love her. I care about her. I see myself in her.

Don’t get me wrong, this review probably makes Not Working sound rather depressing. The scenarios can be sad, particularly if you identify with them, but Owens manages to make them bittersweet. There’s a lot of humour in this book and much of it comes in the form of recognition. How many of us have gone to hand our notice in at the gym and walked out with an appointment for a personal trainer?

Not Working is a must-read. It truly is the Bridget Jones for millennials.

Vic x

Review: ‘Streets of Darkness’ by A.A. Dhand

Streets of Darkness

Bradford is the new Gotham and disgraced DI Harry Virdee is the city’s Dark Knight.

Despite his wife being due to give birth to their first child, Harry undertakes the biggest battle of his career in order to discover the truth behind the brutal murder of a powerful public figure. Not only is he suspended from work, but he has to work with a man he despises in the form of former BNP leader Lucas Dwight in order to get to the bottom of the hideous crime.

Dhand doesn’t sugar coat his home city or his main character and that makes Streets of Darkness all the more hard-hitting. Harry Virdee isn’t a perfect cop, he’s got his dark side too. Virdee’s inner conflict works well in this novel, leading to an ever-increasing sense of tension which kept me turning the pages long after I should have gone to bed!

A.A. Dhand has perfected the art of slick crime drama, creating flawed characters and a compelling narrative. There are some killer lines of poetic prose in this novel as well as being fast-paced and utterly fascinating. I honestly couldn’t tear myself away from this fantastic début.

Vic x