Tag Archives: character

Review: #Nighthawking by @thevoiceofRuss

Sheffield’s beautiful Botanical Gardens is an oasis of peace in a world filled with sorrow, confusion and pain. And then, one morning, a body is found in the Gardens. A young woman, dead from a stab wound, buried in a quiet corner. Police quickly determine that the body’s been there for months. It would have gone undiscovered for years – but someone sneaked into the Gardens and dug it up.

Who is the victim? Who killed her and hid her body? Who dug her up? And who left a macabre marker on the body?

In his quest to find her murderer, DS Adam Tyler will find himself drawn into the secretive world of nighthawkers: treasure-hunters who operate under cover of darkness, seeking the lost and valuable . . . and willing to kill to keep what they find.

In 2020, I was introduced to DS Adam Tyler in ‘Firewatching‘ by the wonderful Russ Thomas, check out my review here. I was lucky enough to be treated to an early copy of the second in the series, ‘Nighthawking‘. Big thanks to Simon & Schuster, Jess Barratt and, of course, Russ Thomas for my advanced copy.

Some series struggle after a strong debut but, in my opinion, Russ Thomas’s writing has only improved. ‘Nighthawking‘ is intense, dark and suspenseful and an absolutely compulsive read. It’s perfectly plotted and the pace builds well as we hurtle towards the denouement.

One thing I really love about this series is that Russ Thomas blends the criminal investigation along with the personal lives of his coppers. Tyler is still enigmatic, deep, and even troubled but his softer side shines through in his encounters with Callum. Mina, Tyler’s enthusiastic DC, shows real growth in this sequel. Yes, I am still Mina’s biggest fan – she’s immense! Similarly, there are new characters in this novel that I truly cared about, Thomas has a real skill for making the reader care for the people in the story.

Nighthawking‘ also explores police powerplays and internal politics, adding yet another layer to this stunning narrative.

Thomas has carried over the fantastic characters from ‘Firewatching‘ and adds yet more compelling people, integrating them into a truly original idea and setting.

I’m already looking forward to Book #3!

Vic x

Review: ‘Anthrax Island’ by D.L. Marshall

FACT: In 1942, in growing desperation at the progress of the war and fearing invasion by the Nazis, the UK government approved biological weapons tests on British soil. Their aim: to perfect an anthrax weapon destined for Germany. They succeeded.

FACT: Though the attack was never launched, the testing ground, Gruinard Island, was left lethally contaminated. It became known as Anthrax Island.

Now government scientists have returned to the island. They become stranded by an equipment failure and so John Tyler is flown in to fix the problem. He quickly discovers there’s more than research going on. When one of the scientists is found impossibly murdered inside a sealed room, Tyler realises he’s trapped with a killer…

Thanks to the team at Canelo for my ARC of ‘Anthrax Island‘. It’s available as an e-book now and will be released in paperback on 6th May. To get a signed copy, order through my lovely local independent bookshop Forum Books.

This, the debut novel from D.L. Marshall, is a tense, taut, pacy thriller which weaves fact and fiction together seamlessly.

I absolutely cannot rate ‘Anthrax Island‘ highly enough. D.L. Marshall has created a whip smart character in the form of John Tyler. I love the fact that Marshall trusts his readers to understand the subtext in the novel without always having to spell out what he’s insinuating. I really enjoyed the political barbs as well as Tyler’s one-liners.

It’s clear from the first chapter that Marshall has done a large amount of research into Gruinard Island and the testing that was carried out there. Marshall uses his knowledge to add extra tension to the fact that there’s a killer prowling the place: if the murderer doesn’t catch you, the anthrax might.

Given the fact that any time one of the small – but suspicious – cast of characters ventures outdoors, they must wear protective suits, Marshall uses this to create a cloying atmosphere in his prose. The way he describes being in the suit was so deftly done that I felt I was in the suit with Tyler. I could feel the claustrophobia the characters were experiencing.

The desolate setting is evoked perfectly through detailed descriptions that really bring the place to life. But don’t think that because he’s so good at setting that this is a gentle story – ‘Anthrax Island‘ is a high velocity read that will leave you breathless. The way in which each chapter ends on a cliffhanger means that it’s almost impossible not to read on.

With cinematic action sequences and adept plotting, ‘Anthrax Island‘ is a classic locked-room mystery crossed with the greatest of action thrillers. If Lee Child and Agatha Christie co-wrote a book, ‘Anthrax Island’ would be that novel.

Vic x

Review: ‘Black Widows’ by Cate Quinn

Blake Nelson moved onto a hidden stretch of land – a raw paradise in the wilds of Utah – where he lived with his three wives: Rachel, the chief wife, obedient and doting to a fault; Tina, the other wife, who is everything Rachel isn’t; And Emily, the youngest wife, who knows little else.
When their husband is found dead under the desert sun, the questions pile up.
But none of the widows know who would want to kill a good man like Blake. Or, at least, that’s what they’ll tell the police…

Set within Utah – Mormon-country – ‘Black Widows‘ delves into the Church of the Latter Day Saints – and an extreme form of Mormonism: polygamous marriage. The idea of reading a book set within this community is intriguing enough but what Cate Quinn has done with ‘Black Widows‘ is create a compelling read featuring characters I could engage with despite wildly different cultural differences. I was utterly invested in the women in this book.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the wives – Rachel, Tina and Emily – and each voice is distinctive in character and tone. I found the three wives completely captivating. They were honest, engaging and utterly believable. Thanks to Quinn’s excellent writing, I could even hear their accents as I read. The character development as the story goes on is exquisite.

I genuinely could not put this book down. I spent several nights reading long after I should have gone to sleep – I just couldn’t stop. ‘Black Widows‘ is one of those books where I couldn’t wait to find out who was responsible but also didn’t want the story to end. I think one thing that really contributed to this were the short, snappy, perfectly crafted chapters that left me wanting more.

My thanks to Orion for supplying me with an ARC of this novel. I cannot recommend ‘Black Widows‘ highly enough.

Vic x

#BlogTour #BeforeSheDisappeared @LisaGardnerBks

Today it’s my turn on Lisa Gardner’s blog tour for her first standalone novel in ten years: ‘Before She Disappeared‘. I’d like to thank Penguin Random House for allowing me a sneak peek at this brilliant book and for having me on the blog tour.

Frankie Elkin is a middle-aged woman who spends her life doing what no one else will: searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up and the public no longer remembers, that’s when Frankie starts looking. Carrying little more than a backpack and her own demons, Frankie travels around the US looking for people who have been forgotten.

Arriving in Mattapan, Boston, Frankie starts her search for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teen who vanished after school almost a year earlier. Although Mattapan’s reputation precedes it, Frankie doesn’t let it stop her from asking around – but she’s met with resistance from the police department and Angelique’s family, who seem pretty wary of the white lady who’s sticking her nose in. Frankie soon learns, though, that she’s asking too many questions – questions someone doesn’t want answered.

I’ve got to admit, the first chapter didn’t grip me and I was worried that this might be a bit of a slog but once we arrived in Mattapan with Frankie, the story completely lifted and I enjoyed not only the mystery but also the descriptions of Mattapan and the people that live there. Gardner really creates a strong sense of the community that Frankie inserts herself into. It was a pleasure to learn about the rich Haitian culture that exists within Boston.

Frankie is a well-rounded character. She may be ballsy but she’s not infallible by any stretch of the imagination and this lent her an air of authenticity to me. Gardner portrays the insidious nature of alcoholism perfectly but manages not to hit the reader around the head with it. There were almost times in the story where I forgot that Frankie had a problem with booze, only for the demons to rear their heads again and I genuinely believe this is what it’s like for addicts. I really liked the idea that Frankie has swapped one addiction for another – she may not be obsessing over her next drink but she’s certainly consumed by the case she’s investigating.

Although there are references to police investigation techniques, I didn’t feel that I was reading a police procedural novel and that, for me, meant that ‘Before She Disappeared‘ wasn’t bogged down in the minutiae of police work. I did, however, feel that the details that were included were not only relevant but also interesting.

Thanks to the interesting cast of characters that Lisa Gardner has created, I found myself heavily invested in the outcome of this book. ‘Before She Disappeared‘ is a well-paced mystery that really packs an emotional punch.

This may have been the first Lisa Gardner book that I’ve read but it won’t be my last.

Vic x

#BlogTour #ABowlofCherries by F.E. Birch

It is an absolute delight to be hosting my very good friend F.E. Birch on the blog today. F.E. is part of a very special group of friends that I’m lucky to have in my life.

I was given the honour of hosting F.E.’s virtual book launch for her short story collection ‘A Bowl of Cherries‘ earlier this year and am delighted to have her on the blog today.

Vic x

Thank you Vic, for hosting me today for A Bowl of Cherries, my short story collection. 

When I first started writing short stories in about 2004 I had no idea where I was going with them. I love writing in the short story form and I when I discovered flash fiction, I thought it was brilliant. I was in the process of changing careers and with three small children it was difficult but I just wanted to write, and write, and write – so I pinched time from everywhere I could and I wrote.

I then started entering competitions and calls for submissions to anthologies. I learned what some markets liked and what others didn’t. I prefer writing in the dark form: crime, psychological, character-centred and devious, and definitely not for everyone. 

Since 2004 I have had a hundred and fifty- five stories published in print or online. I won Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland in 2012 along with Joseph Knox. He’s gone on to be a very successful and talented writer. I was then published by Harper Collins for a collection of anecdotal stories under a pseudonym, which although quite successful, I couldn’t openly take any credit. Life events then got in the way and I had a hiatus from 2013, writing only sporadically, but still networking at lots of the writing festivals. Oh, how I miss them!

I have to praise Vic Watson and Simon Bewick for their lockdown VNATB. It was the highlight of my week, every Wednesday for twenty-two weeks. They really inspired me to pick up my pen again and I managed to finish my part-written crime novel, which is now in the editing stages. I also went back to my short stories and thought, actually, some were okay. A hard thing to admit for someone who doesn’t believe in themselves! Whilst  ‘cooking the book’ that I hope to be my first novel, I thought I could pull together a collection of my short stories. If they’d been published before, surely, they might have some merit? Hence, A Bowl of Cherries was born. 

Each story has a dark theme, and they cover most aspects of life, death, murder, abuse, violence, cannibalism, alcohol, domestic violence, ghosts, and much more. There are few markets for this type of genre, especially in the short story form, but I know there are people out there like me that like to read them. I also understand that for some, they may be too much, which is why they are labelled as triple XXX. I draw on my life and professional experiences for nuggets of ideas that I turn into stories and having seen the dark and dastardly things that people do to each other first hand, I have a wealth of ideas in the bank. There are many more stories loitering in files on my laptop, more still waiting to be written. 

None are for the faint of heart, though I do have the idea of writing a rom-com – if only I can resist killing off a character! 

I am very fortunate to have a great peer group of friendly writing folk, and a special circle of friends, and it’s such a wonderful writing community to be amongst. Thank you to all the readers who keep the writers going, all the writers who understand the need to keep going, and everyone else who supports us. 

Order A Bowl of Cherries now.

Review: ‘The Point of No Return’ by Neil Broadfoot

After more than a decade of being in prison for the brutal murder two Stirling University students, Colin Sanderson has been released after his conviction was found to be unsafe.

Returning home to a small village not far from Stirling, Sanderson refuses police protection, even in the face of a death threat. But the PR firm that has scooped him up to sell his story does know of a protection expert in Stirling. They want Connor Fraser.

Connor reluctantly takes the assignment, partly as a favour to DCI Malcolm Ford, who is none too keen to have Sanderson on the loose, particularly as he was involved in the original investigation that saw him imprisoned. 

When a body is found, mutilated in the same way as Sanderson’s victims were, all eyes fall on the released man. But how can he be the killer when Connor’s own security detail gives him an alibi?

As Connor races to uncover the truth, he is forced to confront not only Sanderson’s past but his own, and a secret that could change his life forever.

Having read ‘No Man’s Land‘ and ‘No Place to Die‘, I was really looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Connor Fraser series – and I wasn’t disappointed. ‘The Point of No Return‘ is a tight, pacey thriller that develops recurring characters within the context of another intriguing mystery.

Broadfoot has a knack of writing taut prose, with not one word wasted and that really helps me envisage the action unfolding. The action at times actually left me breathless. I genuinely can see Connor Fraser coming to a screen near you (hopefully soon).

The unflinching violence in this series is not for the faint-hearted but, with characters like Duncan Mackenzie and his henchman Paulie in the mix, it never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. In addition to the menace provided by Mackenzie and Paulie, Colin Sanderson genuinely gave me the creeps.

Setting the series in Stirling gives Broadfoot’s series a fresh feel to it, putting Scotland – and its political conflicts – at the heart of every story. It’s great to see recurring characters being given space to develop and gain depth. As much as I like Connor, I love Donna Blake and the divided loyalties she experiences on a daily basis.

The third in Neil Broadfoot’s Connor Fraser series is his strongest yet. Readers get not only a barnstorming mystery, they’re also treated to a glimpse into Connor’s own backstory which makes it much easier to understand his motivations and behaviour. However, you don’t have to have read the previous two novels in this series in order to enjoy ‘The Point of No Return‘ – but I recommend that you do anyway!

I can’t recommend ‘The Point of No Return‘ highly enough.

Vic x

Review: ‘If I Can’t Have You’ by Charlotte Levin

Samuel, the day we met I knew I’d finally found what I’ve been waiting for.
You.
Happiness, at last.
Then you left me.
And now I am alone.
Everyone I love leaves in the end.
But not this time.
I’m not giving up on us.
I’m not giving up on you.
When you love someone, you never let them go.
That’s why for me, this is just beginning.

Today is publication day for ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ by Charlotte Levin. My advice? Drop everything and read this book immediately.

Constance, a receptionist at a private medical centre in London, fancies Samuel – the new doctor – immediately. When he returns her affections, Constance is thrilled but when he cuts their affair short, Constance’s affections don’t wane, taking her deeper into obsession.

Although I was initially put off by the marketing materials that accompanied this proof, I was hooked from page one. I can’t recommend ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ highly enough. Although some may see comparing ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ to ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine‘ as a positive, I actually think ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ was far superior.

I love the way in which Charlotte Levin balances real drama and dark misdeeds with a dry sense of humour, her writing fizzes on the page and I didn’t want my encounter with Constance to end.

Constance Little is the most compelling, realistic character I think I have ever read. I love that Charlotte Levin has managed to create so much nuance in Constance that reading ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ is literally like spending time listening to a friend. Sometimes you want to step in and say “Constance, you’re being used” or “You’ve totally misread this” or “Maybe you’re going too far” but that doesn’t mean you don’t care about her. In all honesty, to some extent or another, I really think most of us have been in a similar position to Constance at some time in our lives.

If I Can’t Have You‘ is my book of 2020, I genuinely don’t know how any other book will top it.

Vic x

**Bones in the River Blog Tour**

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Zoë Sharp’s “Bones in the River“. I’ve known Zoë for many years now but here’s a little bit of background to the enigmatic writer.

Zoë Sharp began her crime thriller series featuring former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photo-journalist. Zoë opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen.

Zoë’s work has won or been nominated for awards on both sides of the Atlantic, been used in school textbooks, inspired an original song and music video, and been optioned for TV and film.

When not in lockdown in the wilds of Derbyshire, she can be found improvising self-defence weapons out of ordinary household objects, international pet-sitting, or crewing yachts in the Mediterranean. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.) Zoë is always happy to hear from readers, reader groups, libraries or bookstores. You can contact her via email.

My thanks to Zoë for having me on her blog tour.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job:
Zoe Sharp

I suppose there was half a chance that writing fiction might have been my day job, right from the start. After all, I penned my first novel at the age of fifteen—and I do mean ‘penned’. I wrote the entire thing, long-hand, in a month, and gave myself the most appalling writers’ cramp in the process.

That early effort did the rounds of all the major publishers, where it received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’—everybody said they loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it.

Looking back, I’m rather glad about that.

Because, in order to be a writer, you need different experiences under your belt. At the age of fifteen, I’d had few worth mentioning. Apart from living aboard a catamaran from the age of about seven and leaving school at twelve. But that, as they say, is probably another story.

Having failed at my first attempt to be a novelist, I became side-tracked by a variety of jobs in my teenage years, including crewing boats and learning astro-navigation. I was mad keen on horses, rode competitively, and once even took part in a rodeo. I learned to shoot—did a little competing there, too. Long guns, mostly. I considered myself an average shot with a handgun but, as I discovered on my last visit to a US indoor gun range, most people can manage to miss the target entirely at less than ten feet.

As for jobs, I became a freelance motoring writer at the height of the classic car boom of the late 1980s. That quickly transmuted into being a photojournalist, having taught myself both how to write commercial magazine articles and also how to take images good enough for numerous front covers and centre spreads.

It was hardly surprising, then, that eventually I’d have to start writing a character who was a photographer. Enter Grace McColl, first in Dancing on the Grave and now in Bones in the River. Grace started out as a keen amateur photographer, who became involved in providing evidence for the defence in a court case. She was then approached by the Head CSI at Cumbria police, who asked her if she’d ever thought of joining the side of the angels. Always nice to be able to write any parts of the story concerning photography without having to do lots of research.

My time spent writing about cars also played a part in Bones in the River, which begins with a hit-and-run incident. Understanding how the mechanics of a vehicle work makes writing scenes with them in so much easier and, I hope, more accurate.

Plus, all that time spent with horses came in very useful for a book that takes place during the largest Gypsy and Traveller horse fair in Europe. There were still plenty of times when I had up to a dozen different scientific research books laid on the table at the side of my desk as I wrote, though. Fortunately, forensic science and pathology are such fascinating subjects.

They tell you to write what you know. I disagree. I think you should write what you’re desperate to find out instead.

Bones in the River“, the second book in the Lakes crime thriller series, was published worldwide on May 26 2020 by ZACE Ltd. You can grab a sneak peek of the first three chapters, and is available from all the usual retailers.

Guest Post: James Henry on Writing a Crime Series

Today on the blog, I have James Henry, author of the DI Nicholas Lowry series. James’s books are popular among readers and writers of crime fiction alike.

Whitethroat‘, the third in the series is due out in July and James is here today to give his thoughts on writing a crime series.

My thanks to James for taking the time to share his experience with us.

Vic x

James Henry

Tips on writing a Crime Series

When I start thinking about writing a new crime series, my first rule is to try and write each book in such a way that it works, as far as is possible, as a standalone novel. That is to say, a reader should not have to have read book one in order to understand and enjoy books two, three or four – each should be satisfying in its own right. The point of this, of course, is that you can still pick up new readers with each new book as your series develops – readers who may then dip back to earlier books. If you achieve that, you continue to build your audience.

To do this successfully, remember a few key points when starting out:

Keep a notebook detailing simple things – like description of characters physical traits, their age, their habits and peccadilloes. You think you will remember the simple things; you think you will remember your character prefers white bread to wholemeal; you won’t – but your reader most certainly will… You will thank yourself for having something to refer back to. 

However, I would caution against going overboard on detail too soon: you have a long road to travel, so be wary of packing too much baggage in the early days. You have to carry it all with you. Allow characters to develop gently. The first book in the series should focus on the story, making the plot as tight, engaging and pacy as possible.  

As your series progresses you can allow your characters to develop. The more books you write the more backstory you will accumulate – a sense of shared history involving character relationships, tragic events, celebrations, any number of things. You will draw on this history in your writing, but do so judiciously – too much repetition risks slowly the pace of the story as a whole. Say that book one sees your detective break up from a long relationship, as well as receive a great promotion at work. A long explanation of the reason for their new job in book two may not warrant the page space it takes to tell; but exploring the reasons why they are miserable and drinking more than usual in spite of having an important new job, very well may. 

Remember that as your series develops you have to write with two readers in mind: your new reader, the one who may be discovering this series for the first time; and the readers who have been with you from the start. From now on, think about how you orientate new readers in the world you have created as well as keep things fresh for those who are familiar with it. For instance, you can re-introduce the setting, the landscape – but perhaps you can add some new detail on the geography or history of the area. There is always a way to make the familiar newly interesting.

With all this to bear in mind, the writing may seem hard work, much beyond a one off novel say, but there is a sense of satisfaction in an adding another layer to the world you have created that can only be had by series fiction.

Getting to Know You: Emily Koch

Today I’m delighted to be joined by Emily Koch, author of ‘Keep Him Close‘ and ‘If I Die Before I Wake‘.

My thanks to Emily for taking the time to chat to me during these very strange times.

Vic x

©Barbara Evripidou2015; m: 07879443963; barbara@firstavenuephotography.com

Tell us about your books.
My debut, If I Die Before I Wake, is a psychological thriller about a man with locked-in syndrome, who discovers that the accident which put him in hospital was no such thing – someone tried to kill him. My second novel, Keep Him Close, just came out and it’s more of a dark domestic drama than a thriller. It’s about the friendship between a woman whose son has died and the mother of the boy accused of his murder.

What inspired them?
If I Die was inspired by a news item I heard on the radio one day about someone in a coma. It made me wonder about the family around that person, and what they were doing with their lives. Keep Him Close was inspired by the prison I live near to in Bristol. Some houses back on to the prison wall – it is surrounded on all sides by residential streets. I started thinking about what you’d do if you lived close to it and there was someone inside who had done something terrible to your family. How would you cope with that proximity?

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
When people read something I’ve written and get it. Sometimes that’s my editor, or a friend – but often I get the best feeling of connection from a totally unknown reader. With both books I’ve had reviews online, sometimes only a few lines, that have made me feel – yes, you really got what I was trying to do. I love those moments! I dislike the constant self-doubt, but I try not to listen to that voice in my head too much.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
Ha! Yes, I do find some time, but not a lot at the moment with two kids to run around after. I’ve just started Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
In recent years the biggest influence has been Celeste Ng. I love her two literary thrillers, Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You.

Where do you get your ideas from?
All sorts of places! Newspapers, radio news items, things I hear people say out and about, and the usual ‘what if…?’ situations that I think most people have running through their heads. Writers just know how to notice these and harness them. I firmly believe we all have great ideas – it’s knowing how to spot them and develop them that writers do more than most others.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
The ending of my debut is my favourite section I’ve written. It’s hard to talk about without giving the plot away! There’s also a scene in Keep Him Close where Alice, the mother of the dead boy Lou, is out in her garden looking at the prison wall with her surviving son, Benny. I loved writing that scene, and what they do in it to deal with their grief and anger at Kane, the young man in the prison accused of murdering Lou.

What are you working on at the moment?
Coming up with an idea for my third novel! Or, rather, developing it. I have the basic premise and I’m really excited about it – now it’s just a matter of fleshing it out bit by bit.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
Just keep turning up at your desk – that’s what my lovely agent Peter Straus told me eighteen months ago when I was exhausted and full of the aforementioned self-doubt, trying to work on a second draft of Keep Him Close while running around after a toddler, and in the first trimester of my second pregnancy. He said I just had to keep chipping away at the novel, day after day, and it would come together. It did!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Plotter. I love a good spreadsheet to plan out my novels. I find the planning part of the process incredibly fun and creative – and I feel confident when I start writing because I know the plot is solid.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep reading, keep writing – it’s basic but so true. Get some friends who are writing, too. 

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
When my mum texted me to tell me she’d finished If I Die Before I Wake and said she’d loved it.