Tag Archives: narrative

Review: ‘In A House of Lies’ by Ian Rankin

A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – for everyone involved – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched.

Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. Every officer involved in the original investigation must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

In a House of Lies‘, the twenty-second Rebus novel is a masterclass in how to keep a series fresh. Featuring a strong cast of characters, ‘In a House of Lies‘ is sure to thrill the Rebus faithful. Although he’s still ruffling plenty of feathers with his unconventional methods, the years of heavy smoking and drinking are taking their toll on Rebus and it’s really interesting to see how Rankin demonstrates the fallibility of his main character. Rankin seems to have an excellent insight into how his characters behave – and why. 

I thought the dialogue between characters in this novel was really strong, the banter between friends and foes is really realistic. Rebus’s dry humour really appealed to me. 

The involving plot demonstrates the trust that Rankin places in his readers. He doesn’t over-explain or try to simplify the multiple narrative strands. 

Ian Rankin’s latest novel considers the impact of historic crimes and the impact they have on the people involved. Fans of ‘Unforgotten‘ and ‘Line of Duty‘ will love ‘In a House of Lies‘. 

Vic x

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Guest Post: Louise Mangos on Writing What You Know

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It is my pleasure today to welcome Louise Mangos to the blog to talk about her intimate knowledge of the setting for her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘.

Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, been placed on shortlists, and have also been read on BBC radio. Her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘ is published by HQ Digital (Harper Collins) in ebook, paperback and on audio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook and Twitter or visit her website where there are links to more of her stories. Louise lives in Switzerland with her husband and two sons.

Vic x

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The much-travelled author Mark Twain allegedly said “write what you know. Having spent much of my time in central Switzerland for the past twenty years, the one thing I feel confident in portraying in my novels is the setting. Both my first and second novels are set in and around the Swiss Alps. 

Strangers on a Bridge begins with ex-pat Alice Reed out for a jog one morning when she sees a man – Manfred – about to jump from the Lorzentobelbrücke. As this is rather a mouthful for English readers, it is referred to in the novel as the Tobel Bridge. In reality it is a notorious suicide hotspot that has sadly found its way into many local newspaper articles over the years.

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A quick trip on the bike to re-visit the setting for the first scene on the Tobel Bridges.

The area surrounding the village where my protagonist Alice lives is called the Aegerital, or the Aegeri Valley. It is a cleft of land gouged out of alpine granite with rivers running in and out of the jewel at its centre – the Aegeri Lake. Our family moved there twenty years ago when my first son was six months old. Many of the difficulties Alice faces in Strangers on a Bridge were challenges I also faced when we first moved, speaking no German and pre-occupied with a new baby. 

But that’s where the similarities end. I’m happy to report I never witnessed a person wanting to jump from the Tobel Bridge, and I was certainly never stalked by anybody. I should also point out that we worked hard to integrate into the community we now live in. We made an early effort to learn the language, and have experienced friendliness and acceptance from our neighbours ever since.

During the creative and theoretical modules for my Masters in Crime Writing at UEA, two of my professors, Henry Sutton and Tom Benn, talked about the importance of setting in a novel. They encouraged the students to incorporate the setting to such an extent that it effectively becomes one of the characters. 

No matter where a crime novel is set, this atmosphere must be conveyed to the reader to enhance the tension. This might include how a setting behaves through the seasons, for example, the environmental influences in extreme weather conditions.

Strangers on a Bridge begins in spring, the perfect opening for any novel. The season of births and beginnings. Alice is out for a spring jog when she sees Manfred on the bridge and is convinced he is about to jump. Her shock jars alarmingly with the beautiful alpine spring surroundings.

A great deal of research was still undertaken to make the narrative of this psychological thriller believable. Although I am familiar with many of the rules and traditions in Switzerland, police and legal procedures had to be subsequently verified and checked.

But with the setting clearly cemented as one of the characters in the narrative, it was a pleasure to embellish the plot to match the drama of the Alps.

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The view of the Aegerital from Alice’s running trail in spring.

Review: ‘The Rave’ by Nicky Black

It’s 1989, the second Summer of Love, and Tommy Collins is doing what he does best: organising all-night raves on a shoestring, and playing a game of cat and mouse with the police. But his adversary, Detective Chief Inspector Peach, is closing in on him, and his dreams of a better life are beginning to slip through his fingers.

DCI Peach finds it all a waste of his force’s time until his teenage daughter is found unconscious at one of Tommy’s raves. Then the issue becomes personal, and Peach’s need to make Tommy pay becomes an obsession.

Set in Newcastle upon Tyne, during a moral panic, ‘The Rave‘ is a fast-paced, gritty portrayal of life on the edges of society at the end of a decade that changed Britain forever.

As with Nicky Black’s previous novel ‘The Prodigal‘, ‘The Rave‘ is set on the fictional Valley Park estate. Nicky Black captures the essence of the characters that reside within this community perfectly. They’re funny, offensive and complex – and they don’t hold back. Black uses her characters to bring light and shade to her story, showing that even the grimmest of circumstances have a vein of humour. 

Black’s narrative voice is strong, with the reader’s attention grabbed from the prologue. As a native Geordie, I loved the setting and found I could imagine ‘The Rave‘ on TV. Black has captured not only the location but also the era very well with her strong eye for detail. As the end of the book approaches and the stakes increase, so does the pace.

With an original plot and setting, as well as compelling characters, ‘The Rave‘ delivers on all fronts. 

Vic x

Review: ‘What Falls Between the Cracks’ by Rob Scragg

A severed hand is found in an abandoned flat. DNA tests identify that it belongs to someone who hasn’t been seen in over thirty years. Why aren’t the police aware of this person? Isn’t she on a list of missing people? No, because she hasn’t been reported missing.

Detective Jake Porter and his partner Nick Styles are called in to investigate this increasingly complex case. From the prologue, the reader is sucked in to this chilling mystery which goes to prove that you can’t always trust those closest to you.

The premise itself is really original but the unpicking of what happened and why is masterful. Robert Scragg weaves a complex plot with a large cast of characters, all of whom propel the narrative forward.

I really enjoyed the cultural references in this story, they helped to make the dialogue realistic and brought the characters to life. The banter between Porter and Styles demonstrates the gallows humour that is present in many challenging work environments.

OK, so you all know I love a twist. You know what’s better than a twist? Several! Just when I thought I had a grip on what was going on and who was responsible, the rug was whipped from under my feet and a new piece of the jigsaw was thrown into the mix (apologies for the mixed metaphors).

What Falls Between the Cracks is an assured debut that introduces readers to new detectives that they’ll keep coming back to as the Porter and Styles series expands.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland

For many people, including me, a stand-out read of 2017 was ‘Lost For Words‘ by Stephanie Butland so it was with excitable trepidation that I began reading ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae‘.

I needn’t have worried. Stephanie’s latest novel surpassed my expectations – I did not want to stop reading this heart-warming tale of Ailsa Rae, a young woman who, following a lifetime of illness, has to learn a new way of navigating her way through the world while struggling with grief and survivor’s guilt.

Once again, Stephanie Butland has created inimitable characters that I’d happily be friends with. One of Butland’s skills is to make her characters rounded, creating light and shade in both the narrative and within the characters.

Ailsa, in particular, seems completely real to me. After suffering from a heart condition since birth, Ailsa finally undergoes a heart transplant and afterwards feels somewhat lost – her identity no longer revolves around being ill, but she’s not sure what it should revolved around. Despite her apparently hard exterior, it was lovely to peel back Ailsa’s layers and see a more vulnerable side to her. Stephanie Butland really seems to have a talent for creating seemingly tough characters with soft centres.

It was easy for me to fall into this story, I was totally invested in the characters – Seb was particularly appealing to me. The once-close relationship between Ailsa and her mum is portrayed sensitively and realistically as both mother and daughter struggle to come to terms with their new roles.

I felt that having a novel revolving around organ donation was a bold move and it absolutely works. The amount of research undertaken by Butland shows but it’s the human element of this story that makes it utterly compelling.

Although it’s an enjoyable read, ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae‘ has a very important message behind it – the incredible difference organ donation can make to someone when your organs are no longer of use to you.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Charlie Laidlaw.

Today it’s my pleasure to host writer Charlie Laidlaw on the blog. My thanks to Charlie for sharing his time and experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My first book, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing) was inspired by the seventeenth century witch craze. Back then, it was a crime not to believe in witchcraft. What, I thought, would happen now if someone still did believe in witchcraft? That said, to make this improbable tale work, it had to be a bit of a Benny Hill romp. It’s a fun book.

My second, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press), while a gentle comedy, is darker. It’s really a reworking of The Wizard of Oz – young woman gets knocked on the head, remembers her life in flashback, and emerges from the experience as a different person. It’s a book about the power of memory and how, if we remember things in a different way, we can be changed by that experience.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Good question because I have no idea. The basic inspiration for my second book came on a train from Edinburgh to London, which was apt as Edinburgh is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book. When I got home, I wrote the first and last chapters. The first has changed beyond all recognition, but the last chapter is pretty much the same.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Not really, no. I tend to be something of a perfectionist and am constantly editing and rewriting. I hope that, for the reader, it comes across as effortless. From my perspective, everything is hard work – so I tend to like most of the stuff that eventually makes it into the final cut!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Not entirely sure what you mean. But I think that good books need good characters, a good plot, and good narrative and dialogue. Those are at least some of the basics. However, as I’ve mentioned the word “plot” I suppose I’m a plotter.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I’m always reading because I take inspiration from other writers, and the world and the characters they create. You can’t write if you don’t read.  Simples.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
I can’t remember who gave me this advice but, like most advice, it’s both blindingly obvious and wise. Simply: you can’t edit a blank page. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing gibberish. You can go back to it later and turn it into English. The important thing is to keep writing.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope, to be entertained. But also, maybe, to be taken on a slightly mad thought-provoking journey. I like books that are not too deep, entertain me, and make me smile. I hope that’s what mine do.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing and don’t give up. I honestly believe that some of the best books ever written will be mouldering at the bottom of landfill because their authors received one too many rejection. If you genuinely think that what you’ve written has merit, stick with it.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like the way that one idea can lead onto another and then another. I dislike it when those ideas turn out to be bad ideas, and I’ve wasted days or weeks of my life. I try now to plan well ahead, with an ending in sight.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
It’s complete and provisionally entitled The Space Between Time. While (again) a gentle comedy, it’s also about mental illness and how we can grow up with false impressions of the people closest to us. It was a difficult book to write, because it has to balance lighter elements with tragedy and poignancy.  It will be published late this year or early in 2019.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’d like to say, putting in the final full stop. But that just provokes me to go back into the manuscript and edit, edit, edit. So, perhaps the best moment is when your editor and proofreader tell you that no further changes can be made!

**Twin Truths Blog Tour** Guest Post and Review.

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Regular readers of the blog will know that Shelan Rodgers’s ‘Yellow Room’ was one of my favourite books of 2017 so I jumped at the chance to read her new novel ‘Twin Truths‘. 

I’m also thrilled to have Shelan with us on the blog to talk about how she creates a story that lingers with the reader long after they’ve finished reading it. My thanks to Shelan and Dome Press for having me on this blog tour. 

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Creating a story that stays with people
By Shelan Rodger

The idea for this blog piece came from Victoria and I loved it immediately. Creating a story (or a painting or a piece of music or a film) that stays with people is something I believe is at the heart of artistic aspiration. If a piece of art lingers and plays in our minds, it means that we have truly connected with it; like a pebble dropped into a pond, it sends ripples into our lives.

If I think of books that have stayed with me – books like Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or Ruth Ozeki’s Tale for the Time Being – they all share certain characteristics associated with ambivalence and pushing the boundaries. If ‘creating a story that stays people’ were a recipe, I think I would identify six possible ingredients:

  1. Ambiguous characters – not just straight forward goodies or baddies, likeable or unlikeable, but complicated people with flaws that make them human. I believe that deep down there is a white swan and a black swan in us all and this multiplicity is intriguing and unpredictable, an ambiguity that makes it possible to empathise with the character on the page and enter into minds and places we might never normally go.
  2. Engaging in the character’s journey – if we connect to the characters, we feel their dilemmas and conflicts in a way that is intimate and yet safe at the same time. As we read, we slip in and out of our own experiences, relating them subconsciously to what we read – and this becomes a filter to look at our own world and ourselves in a different way, challenging what we have always taken for granted or hidden from the world or ourselves. The story, the character’s experience emanates outwards, rippling into our own life and reflections.
  3. Twists – their power to shock, to reveal, to make sense of chaos, or turn order upside down. By making us reevaluate what we thought was true, they challenge and push the boundaries.
  4. An ambivalence or openness in the ending – an ending which gives us a sense of closure and yet does not close doors completely, so that we feel satisfied and curious at the same time. There may be the hint of a future, or that things might not be as resolved as they seem and may continue to change and evolve, as life does. As a reader and a writer, I love last lines – and I think they are the most challenging thing to write of the whole book!
  5. Transformative power of the narrative – The Lovely Bones is a beautiful example of this: the almost transcendent way the author enables you to engage with an appalling subject matter (the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl); how she manages to convey the horror but also a sense of redemption, something beautiful and uplifting from the very ashes of what happened.
  6. The language itself – it is not all about plot and character, it’s also about the language, the images, the reaching for symbolism and connections. As a reader, I don’t want language that it is totally transparent; I want to be carried along by the current of the narrative, but I want to swim in it and feel its texture on my skin.

In Twin Truths, I have aspired to combine all these ingredients. Even the title is ambiguous and my hope is that you will come back full circle to it at the end of the book. Here’s to your journey and I hope it lingers with you!

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Review: ‘Twin Truths’
By Shelan Rodger.

What is the truth? And how do you recognise it when you hear it? Jenny and Pippa are twins. Like many twins they often know what the other is thinking but when Pippa disappears Jenny is left to face the world alone, while trying to find out what happened to her sister. But the truth can be a slippery thing.
In ‘Twin Truths‘, Shelan Rodger has surpassed herself with this bold, audacious novel about truth, lies and everything in between. 
Rodger transports her readers to Buenos Aires, Greece and London while exploring the nature of identity and how the stories we tell ourselves and each other influence our sense of self. 
Rodger’s prose is at times poetic but always beautiful. She doesn’t shy away from sensitive subjects and handles them with aplomb. ‘Twin Truths‘ is truly unsettling with a really shocking ending. 
Vic x