Tag Archives: book

Review: ‘The Hermitage’ by LJ Ross

When an old man is found dead inside the ancient hermitage at Warkworth Castle, Northumbria CID are called in to investigate. With no apparent motive, it’s their job to discover why he was murdered – and this time they’re forced to do it without their star detective as DCI Ryan has tracked a killer across Europe and has sworn not to return until he has his man in custody. Nathan Armstrong is a dangerous psychopath but there’s just one problem – he’s also an international celebrity; a world-famous thriller writer with money and connections.

When I began reading ‘The Hermitage‘, I was staying in a hotel very close to the village of Warkworth, where LJ Ross’s latest book is set. I loved being even more immersed in the setting than usual. However, Ross’s descriptions are so evocative that you’ll be able to picture the locations even if you haven’t visited them before. 

The Hermitage‘ is also unusual in the fact that DCI Ryan is actually out of the UK, we follow him and his wife Anna to Florence. Despite the beauty of their surroundings, Ryan and Anna find themselves fighting for their lives against an intelligent adversary. 

I really enjoyed finding out more about Nathan Armstrong’s backstory, LJ Ross demonstrates an insightful streak by understanding the motives behind his heinous acts. Combined with a keen awareness of her main character, Ross uses ‘The Hermitage‘ to inform her readers about Ryan and his family too. 

I think what continues to make the DCI Ryan series so successful is Ross’s ability to combine some awful crimes with strong relationships between the recurring characters. I particularly enjoy the banter between Ryan and Phillips. 

Ross’s stories demonstrate a duality that most of us experience: that things are rarely all good or all bad. 

I honestly did not want ‘The Hermitage‘ to end, it was utterly gripping. However, DCI Ryan fans don’t have long to wait for the next instalment: ‘Longstone‘ is due to be released on 10th December. Before that, though, is a new multicast drama on audiobook. ‘The Infirmary‘ will be available on Audible from 8th November. I, for one, can’t wait! 

Vic x

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Review: ‘My Name is Anna’ by Lizzy Barber

On Anna’s eighteenth birthday she defies her Mamma’s rules to visit Astroland, Florida’s biggest theme park, despite her mother’s ban on the place. When she arrives, though, Astroland seems familiar. On the same day, Anna receives a mysterious letter she receives and she starts to question her whole life.

In London, Rosie has grown up in the shadow of the missing sister she barely remembers.  With the fifteenth anniversary of her sister’s disappearance looming, the media circus starts up again, and Rosie uncovers some information that threatens to tear her family apart. Will Rosie uncover the truth before her family implodes?

I enjoyed ‘My Name is Anna‘ from the outset, my attention was grabbed by the intriguing prologue and beautiful prose. Lizzy Barber manages to balance a compelling narrative with excellent attention to detail and exquisite descriptions.

Told from two points of view, ‘My Name is Anna‘ is an interesting study of self-discovery. By having eighteen year old Anna and Rosie, who is sixteen, Barber evokes a time every reader can understand: adolescence. Combining typical coming-of-age drama with a serious crime is an effective tactic, I thought this was particularly inventive. 

The characters are well-drawn and, thanks to Barber’s descriptions, I could see them in my mind’s eye. Anna’s mamma, in particular, was brilliantly evoked.

My Name is Anna‘ is such an intelligently-written book. It covers all sorts of issues including religion, coercion and the repercussions of past mistakes. It’s fast-paced yet sensitive, with several layers. 

If I had to compare ‘My Name is Anna‘ with other books, I’d say ‘Carrie‘ meets ‘Sharp Objects‘ with a sprinkling of ‘The Couple Next Door‘. 

My Name is Anna‘ is Lizzy Barber’s debut novel and is available to download now. The paperback is released in January 2019. 

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Adam Peacock

Drum roll please! May I introduce you to Adam Peacock, a member of Elementary Writers and author of ‘Open Grave‘.

Because Adam is a debut author, I wanted to introduce him to you as I suspect you will be reading Adam’s novels for many years to come.

My thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
My novel Open Grave is a crime thriller set in the North East of England. The protagonist, DCI Jack Lambert, is different to most other detectives within the genre in that he is gay. On a personal level, this is something he is struggling with, having only recently made this admission at the beginning of the book.

The main ‘crime’ within the story is that of a serial killer who is murdering people in pairs, burying them and then digging them up so that they can be found. Alongside this, gang warfare is about to break out between rival criminal groups and a well-known local celebrity reports that she is being stalked. I wanted to create a sprawling world within my book with multiple threads, the idea being that nothing ever resolves neatly, with certain storylines and characters crossing over into future novels.

What inspired your novel?
I read a lot of crime and so it felt natural to write something within that genre. The inspiration for Open Grave came about from an image I had in my head of a crime scene in which a member of the public stumbles across two bodies in an open grave (strange, I know). The story unfolded from there.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I quite enjoy editing, which is a good thing as there’s always plenty to do when you don’t intricately plot your book before beginning! Knowing that I am whipping something up into shape is a great feeling.

The thing I dislike most about writing is just how easy it is to fall out of your routine when it comes to putting words onto the page. Like most things in life, a few days away from the computer can easily stretch into weeks and this can lead to unnecessary procrastination.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I do find the time to read. As I prefer to write in the mornings, I dedicate time to read most evenings. I’m currently reading Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As a writer, I would have to say Stephen King and Jo Nesbo. I would also include Lee Child in that list. With regards to Stephen King, I read his book On Writing before I penned so much as a character profile and I use the template he gives in terms of how to go about writing. I also enjoy reading his books!

As for Jo Nesbo, I find the protagonist Harry Hole to be a wonderfully complex character. He has many of the traits that we see in crime fiction from such detectives but I find myself invested in Harry in a way that I rarely find in other books. I also like that Nesbo leaves certain threads open between books, which always leaves me wanting to read more. With Lee Child, it has to be his pacing. I find myself flying through his books and every page carries a tension with it. This is something I am hoping to refine in my own work moving forward.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually they just pop into my head either as an image – like happened with Open Grave –  or as a question. I like the idea of concocting a problem, in the form of a question, which seemingly makes no sense initially. Within my own writing, I basically keep asking a number of questions until an answer presents itself. This helps create misdirection.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I enjoy the opening scene from Open Grave, mainly because it is the opening chapter of my first published novel. In terms of a character, it would have to be gangland boss Dorian McGuinness, my protagonist’s former employer. I feel like his character has a lot of room to grow and that there are all manner of skeletons in his closet which may or may not be revealed in future…

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the second novel in the DCI Jack Lambert series and I’m excited to see where it will go. This novel is a little more focused around one event and, with characters having already been established in the first novel, I am keen to see how they react to the hurdles put before them.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
In a non-direct sense, Stephen King’s ‘just get an idea and go with it’ has had the biggest impact on me. Whilst this can lead to a lot of editing, it minimises the scope for procrastination and I find myself able to get on with things. I also try to stick to his mantra of completing 1,000 words a day with varying degrees of success.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m definitely not a plotter! Get the idea and run with it. Of course, as I work through a novel, ideas spring into my head in terms of where I want things to go, but you won’t find any colour-coded charts or timelines pinned to my wall. I should point out, that’s not a judgement on writers that do spend time plotting, I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes! Read Stephen King’s On Writing, get yourself along to a writing group and don’t fret about giving it a go. Most writers I meet begin by being somewhat self-conscious about their work, often talking down their ability and/or experience. I’d say just get stuck in and see what happens. If you can get into some kind of writing routine, you’ll soon see huge improvements in your work.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Until recent times it would have been winning the Writers’ Forum monthly magazine short story competition. However, opening the email from Bloodhound Books to find that they believed in my work and wanted to publish Open Grave has definitely topped all other writing-related moments!

You can order/download Open Grave‘ now. You can also follow Adam on Twitter and on Facebook

Guest Post: Bea Davenport on ‘The Power of the Witch’

Today I’m delighted to have Bea Davenport on the blog today. 

Bea Davenport is the pen-name of former newspaper and BBC journalist Barbara Henderson. She holds a Creative Writing PhD and is the author of five published novels: ‘In Too Deep‘ and ‘This Little Piggy‘ (Legend Press), ‘The Serpent House‘ (Curious Fox), ‘My Cousin Faustina‘ (ReadZone Books) and ‘The Misper‘ (The Conrad Press). She divides her time between Berwick upon Tweed and Leeds and she teaches journalism and creative writing. 

Barbara has been an incredible supporter of mine for many years and I’m thrilled to have her on the blog to talk about everyone’s interest in witchcraft. My thanks to Barbara for taking the time to talk to us. 

Vic x

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The Power of the Witch:
Bea Davenport talks about her latest novel,
 The Misper.

Everyone’s talking about witchcraft. Why are more young women suddenly being drawn to it, why is it all over Instagram, why does it feature in so many current autumn dramas on TV? A piece in The Observer asks these questions,  and it comes shortly after Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour explored exactly the same subject. 

It’s fascinating to see this sudden spike in interest. My children’s novels have all featured some elements of magic, be it time travel (The Serpent House, 2014) or shape-shifting (My Cousin Faustina, 2015). My latest teen/YA novel The Misper began as a story about a girl who goes missing, and it was going to be a realist novel set in Normal Town. But then two of the main characters started dabbling in magic and it was impossible to stop them (teenagers, you know – what’re you going to do?). 

In the novel, Zoe tries witchcraft as a way of bringing control into her troubled life. Anna is led along, even though it scares her. At first it appears to be working – but then things go horribly wrong. I leave it up to the reader to decide whether the magic is real or all in the girls’ heads.

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I have to confess to a bit of irritation at the suggestion in some of the coverage that this is a new phenomenon. Many are suggesting that the attraction to the witch as a feminist figure is the reason behind the recent lure of the occult, particularly for young women. That’s actually a change that came about as long ago as the 1970s, when writers (particularly in children’s fiction) started to reimagine the witch not as an evil, child-eating old hag of traditional fairytales, but as a figure of strength, wisdom and knowledge, a rule-breaker and a healer. These are the books I read as a child.

During those formative years, there were other inspiring resources for me to draw on (including the fabulous Bewitched series!). Now that my generation is grown up and writing drama and fiction, it’s perhaps not surprising that strong and interesting witch figures tend to feature. And now that young women can access like-minded people online, it’s hardly surprising that they’re forging communities out of these shared interests.

In The Misper, magic (or is it?) can’t help to bring back a missing teenage girl and so the novel is also about the effects on those who have to cope with a friend or family member who’s simply disappeared. So although there are some elements of magic (or not, depending on your interpretation!), the story is at heart about a real situation.

For me as a writer, it combined two of my interests: crime/mystery and magic. The intended teenage readership – a new one for me – meant I could go a little darker with the content than I would for a younger audience. It was an enormously satisfying book to write! I hope readers will enjoy it too.

The Misper‘ is available now. 

Review: ‘Dead Man’s Prayer’ by Jackie Baldwin

Ex-priest DI Frank Farrell has returned to his roots in Dumfries, only to be landed with a disturbing murder case. Even worse, Farrell knows the victim: Father Boyd, the man who forced him out of the priesthood eighteen years earlier.

With no leads, Farrell must delve into the old priest’s past, one that is inexorably linked with his own. But his attention is diverted when a pair of twin boys go missing. The Dumfries police force recover one in an abandoned church, unharmed. But where is his brother?

As Farrell investigates the two cases, he can’t help but feel targeted. Is someone playing a sinister game, or is he seeing patterns that don’t exist? Either way, it’s a game Farrell needs to win before he loses his grip on his sanity, or someone else turns up dead.

Dead Man’s Prayer‘ is the first in the DI Frank Farrell series and it’s a corker. The idea of a man leaving his religion in order to become a detective is a highly original premise. Farrell is complex and layered, with his supporting characters fully-rounded. Farrell’s break with the church leaves him with plenty of  divided loyalties which ramps up the tension.

Baldwin’s characters in this novel have plenty of depth and enough conflicts to drive the story forward. 

The way in which Baldwin uses religious imagery and symbolism ensures that the prose is rich and vivid. Her economy of language ensures that this police procedural is fast-paced in addition to being well-plotted. 

A truly original debut. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Case of the Fool’ by E.V. Harte

Returning home from a holiday, Tarot reader Dolly Greene learns that much has changed on her street. Squatters have taken over at 7 Tinderbox Lane, and a mysterious Brazilian woman has moved in next door at Number 3. Dolly also finds a surly Russian girl, Marina, waiting outside the house, insisting on a reading.

Marina’s cards reveal conflict, misery and death and Dolly knows she should be concerned. But the girl is so disagreeable Dolly’s only too relieved when the reading finally ends.

She would have preferred to forget about the whole reading . . . but Marina’s cards come back to haunt Dolly and those around her, until Death once again leaves its calling card on Tinderbox Lane.

The Case of the Fool‘ may have a very pleasant cover but don’t be fooled by it – there’s plenty of dastardly behaviour happening in this book so don’t expect too much of a cosy crime. If you like Agatha Raisin, you’ll love Dolly Greene. 

The cast of characters in this novel are funny and well-drawn. Harte’s descriptions mean that the characters and scenarios are very vivid. I would love to see this series adapted for TV. 

E.V. Harte uses her Tarot Detective series to cover a vast array of social issues including squatting, human trafficking, the economy and politics. ‘The Case of the Fool‘ represents a slice of London life today. 

I can’t wait to read the next Dolly Greene book. 

Vic x

**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