Tag Archives: crime

Review: ‘The Secretary’ by Renee Knight

Look around you. Who holds the most power in the room? Is it the one who speaks loudest, who looks the part, who has the most money, who commands the most respect?

Or is it someone like Christine Butcher: a meek, overlooked figure, who silently bears witness as secrets are shared  Someone who quietly, perhaps even unwittingly, gathers together the knowledge of the people she’s there to serve – the ones who don’t notice her, the ones who consider themselves to be important.

There’s a fine line between loyalty and obsession. And when someone like Christine Butcher is pushed to her limit, she might become the most dangerous person in the room . . .

Christine is an average wife and mother, who is the personal assistant to Mina Appleton, the chair of a large supermarket chain. Following accusations of unethical practices within Mina’s business, Christine has to decide how far she wants to go to prove her loyalty to her boss in a surprisingly cutthroat industry. 

As ‘The Secretary‘ progresses, told through Christine’s eyes, it was interesting as a reader to work out what had happened to Christine and where she was telling her story from. When this was revealed where she actually was, I was quite surprised. Renee Knight didn’t go for the most obvious explanation and I appreciated that. 

I thought Renee Knight’s characterisation in this novel was very strong. I enjoyed the transformation in Christine as her job became all-encompassing. I thought the character of Mina seemed really believable, her manipulative behaviour certainly seemed to represent what we have come to expect from heads of corporations. In many ways, ‘The Secretary‘ reminded me of ‘The Devil Wears Prada‘. 

I thought the idea of having the central crime in this novel centre around unethical business practices and perverting the course of justice was really original. Although it may not initially seem as compelling as murder, this story seemed really realistic and the behaviour of the characters made me want to read on. This is a character-driven psychological thriller which keeps the tension tight throughout.

Vic x

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Review: The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles.

Leaving no clues, the murderer – nicknamed The Immolation Man – is managing to render the police useless. When disgraced detective Washington Poe’s name is discovered carved into the charred remains of the third victim, he’s brought back from suspension despite wanting to be no part of this gruesome investigation. 

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only Poe is meant to see. The elusive killer has a grand plan and for some unknown reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive. 

I tore through ‘The Puppet Show‘, unable to pull myself away from this compelling narrative. The characters are well-drawn and Craven appears to have a deep understanding of their back stories and what motivates them. I am, of course, #TeamTilly. Despite this being a dark, violent crime drama, Craven paints Tilly with sensitivity and, in her relationship with Poe, manages to bring some light relief when things get heavy. Craven, a former probation officer, has used his experience to create compelling, realistic characters.

Alongside his obvious understanding of the motivations of his characters, Craven’s experience within the criminal justice system shines through. Craven maintains the fine balance of demonstrating his depth of knowledge while ensuring that the story isn’t bogged down in minutiae. ‘The Puppet Show‘ is a well-plotted, fast-paced read. 

 Setting these grisly murders against the beautiful scenery of the Lake District was a stroke of genius by Craven, too. I really appreciated the experience of reading about somewhere I’m familiar with, turning it from a place of rugged beauty to something far more terrifying.  I honestly cannot recommend this book highly enough. 

The Puppet Show‘ is the first in the Washington Poe series and I can’t wait for the next one. ‘Black Summer‘ is due out later this year. 

Vic x

Review: ‘She Lies in Wait’ by Gytha Lodge

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads, you may have seen that I’ve been championing ‘She Lies in Wait‘ by Gytha Lodge since I got my hands on an advance copy at Harrogate last July. There was a huge buzz about this book at the festival and I was determined not to leave without a copy.

In July 1983, six school friends go camping in the forest. Aurora Jackson is allowed to tag along with her sister’s group of friends. Thirty years after her disappearance, Aurora’s body is discovered in a secret hideaway that only the six on the camping trip knew about. For three decades, the group have maintained their innocence but DCI Sheens is about to uncover the truth, and it’s been lurking closer to home than anyone realised…

Set across two timelines, ‘She Lies in Wait‘ is a twisty read which explores the impact of how one tragic night echoes throughout the years. Lodge evokes the 1980s perfectly, capturing the era with strong descriptions and cultural references. I found it really easy to get in the mindset of the characters because Lodge captures the preoccupations and concerns of teenagers with aplomb. 

She Lies in Wait‘ isn’t your average crime novel. Gytha Lodge has managed to create a nuanced portrayal of a crime and how it impacts on those left behind. Lodge considers the impact of the murder on not only the family of the victim but the detective who is haunted by the lack of resolution. It’s also a really interesting study on what happens to those who are accused. 

Fans of ‘Unforgotten‘ will love ‘She Lies in Wait‘. 

Vic x

2018 Review: Tess Makovesky

Tess Makovesky is a brilliant writer who I’ve “known” online for many years. I met Tess in person for the first time at Crime and Publishment. Since then, I’ve hosted her at Noir at the Bar Newcastle and am delighted to have her on the blog to review her year. 

Thanks, Tess, I wish you well for 2019.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
It’s the release of my first novel Gravy Train by All Due Respect. I wasn’t sure I could write a whole novel and only tried after three writer friends (you know who you are…!) pinned me to the wall and threatened me with extreme consequences if I didn’t. And in the end I had so much fun writing it, and I think that shows. It’s steamed into town on Friday 26th November, just in time for Christmas. So, if you want to read about a bunch of losers chasing a bag of dodgy money around the back streets of Birmingham, then please watch this space!

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Probably the Crime and Publishment weekend back in March, which was an absolute blast. It’s always lovely catching up with so many old mates, but this year there were plenty of friendly new faces too, and the guest speakers and sessions were really stimulating. I enjoyed it so much I’ve just booked to go back next year!

Favourite book in 2018?
I’m struggling to answer this one a bit. I haven’t had time to read much crime this year, and some of what I have read has been slightly disappointing. I did enjoy Aidan Thorn’s latest, Rival Sons, which is a powerful family drama of the ‘throwing a stone into a pond and watching the ripples spread’ variety, with a real kick in the teeth ending. And I’m hoping to go back to an old favourite, The Saint Vs Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris, next.

Favourite film in 2018?
Can I cheat and choose a TV series instead? Top of the list would be the wonderfully twisted Get Shorty, which was brilliant, dark, funny and brilliant – even if I did have to watch half of each episode through my fingers! Also worth a mention were Brotherhood, with great performances by Jason Isaacs and Jason Clarke, and Broadchurch series 3. And Bodyguard, of course, and… oh dear, it sounds like I do nothing but watch crime on television…

Favourite song of the year?
I’m cheating horribly by choosing Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar, which gave me the title for Gravy Train – not to mention more than a few sly references to the lyrics inside the book!

Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a slightly difficult year health-wise – nothing major thank goodness but lots of little annoying things that added up to much less time than usual to write. It was frustrating while it lasted but I’m hoping for better things next year.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Nope! I never make resolutions because I can never keep them beyond about the 9th January…

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m about nine tenths of the way through the first draft of Embers of Bridges, another crime caper set around Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and canals. I’d love to get that finished and offer it to All Due Respect. And a bit less divisiveness in the country might be nice…

2018 Review: Theresa Talbot

Yesterday’s 2018 reviewer was Harry Gallagher. Today, we welcome Theresa Talbot. Like Harry, Theresa has had a very eventful year.

My thanks to her for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
For me 2018 has been the best year ever – in so many ways. Professionally, I signed with a new publisher Aria, and new agent Nicola Barr which was super. Aria re-released my debut crime novel in April of this year, and gave it a total revamp including new title & new cover. It’s now The Lost Children – it was re-edited too which for me gave it a whole new dimension and helped established the characters for the follow-up novel. Which allows me to seamlessly mention Keep Her Silent, which was released in August. I also do a lot of chairing work for other writers and been lucky enough to chair Marian Keyes,  MC Beaton (the writer of Agatha Raisin), Ashley Jenson (the star of Agatha Raisin) and (drum roll…) Graham Norton who was an absolute dream, they all were. So it’s been a pretty whirlwind year.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Oh crikey, where do I start? Bloke-With-Beard (aka my partner) proposed in May, which came completely out of the blue. We’d been friends twenty-five years ago but lost touch. We reconnected through Facebook and had our first date in Italy of all places. Long story short he lived in Liverpool, I was in Glasgow and it seemed like the best place to meet up – the other choice was the services at Tebay as it was equidistant. Anyhoo, less than a year later he popped the question. I suppose at our age it doesn’t do to hang about! We went back to Italy to get married in September. As I say, no point it dawdling over these things. Anyway, I had a very short window given the dress I’d chosen – another year and I was in danger of looking like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. I think that day we got married truly was the most special moment, not just of the year but of my life. It was magical.

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Favourite book in 2018?
I have to say Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run. I know Douglas, he’s a pal – a rather grumpy pal – but very lovely none the less. This is a bit of a breakaway for him and deserves to put him in the running as one of Scotland’s best crime writers.

Favourite film in 2018?
I don’t think I’ve actually seen a movie that was released this year. It’s been a bit mental and busy and, now that you’ve mentioned it, I actually don’t think I’ve been to the movies once. I LOVE films, one of my favourites that I watched this year was Kind Hearts & Coronets – a 1949 black comedy starring Dennis Price & Alec Guiness. It’s hilarious. I stuck on the DVD – Bloke-With-Beard had never seen it & I was really excited that he was going to experience this brilliance for the first time. Anyway, I was helpless with laughter and he fell asleep! He wasn’t that impressed as it turned out. This was before the wedding – but the dress was bought and the flights booked so…

 Favourite song of the year?
There are so many I could choose – but I’m going to go with La Vie en Rose – The Louis Armstong version. I walked down the aisle to this (it wasn’t quite an aisle – we got married on a vineyard) and the words are so beautiful: ‘and when you speak angels sing from above, every day words seem to turn into love songs ...give your heart & soul to me, and life will always be, la vie en rose…’  My favourite version is by Edith Piaf whom I actually adore – but it didn’t lend itself as well to the occasion, and Bloke-With-Beard can’t stand Piaf’s voice! But the flights had been booked etc… see above! But TBH Satchmo’s trumpet nailed it for me.

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Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a really whirlwind year with so many happy memories. Politically, I’m heartbroken at what’s happening in our world. The racism, misogyny, poverty…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I make resolutions every week, every month and every new year. I think this year I’ll endeavour to write every single day – and go back to my Italian classes. I’ve been trying to learn Italian for the best part of three years and all I can say is ‘Per favore, posso avere un prosecco?’ Which means, ‘Please may I have a prosecco.’ I can, of course, expand my repertoire to two, three or four proseccos. I never bothered learning the word for five as after that the waiter usually knows what I’m looking for.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m busy writing the third in the Oonagh O’Neil Trilogy which should be out in April 2019. I’d also like to write a completely different strand – but who knows.

Thanks so much for letting me be part of this Vic, it’s been a pleasure reliving so many lovely memories. I hope you share your favourite moments of 2018 also – and all the love and luck for 2019. 

T.T.

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