Tag Archives: narrative

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

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Review: ‘The Last Lie’ by Alex Lake

Claire and Alfie Daniels are the perfect couple. From the outside, they have it all. Claire has a career she loves, great friends and a dream husband. All Claire needs to complete her dream life is a baby. If they can conceive, her life will be perfect. 

For Alfie, though, things couldn’t be more different. His whole existence is built on lies. And he can’t let his wife find out. The problem is, lies have a habit of getting out – and if Claire gets wind of the secrets Alfie’s been keeping, their perfect life will be shattered. 

From the opening page, I was utterly enthralled with ‘The Last Lie‘. Alex Lake’s story unfurls naturally and with a steady pace. The characters she introduces are well-drawn and realistic. I could absolutely believe that the events taking place in this book could happen to anyone. The extraordinary events in these ordinary surroundings reminded me of ‘Doctor Foster‘ and ‘Gone Girl‘. 

Alex Lake has created a compelling narrative that keeps the reader turning the pages until the very end. Lake leads the reader down several avenues and manages to surprise at every turn. ‘The Last Lie‘ is absolute belter of a book, I literally couldn’t put it down. 

I can’t recommend ‘The Last Lie‘ highly enough. 

Vic x

2018 Review: Trevor Wood

Trevor Wood has had a pretty good year but I’ll let him tell you all about it…

As always, Trevor, it’s been a pleasure.

Vic x

home sweet home

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018? 
Easy one this. The moment I got an e-mail from my agent Oli Munson to confirm that I’d been offered a two-book deal with Quercus. After some near misses it was such a combination of joy and relief. I am not sure I will completely believe it until I have an actual book in my hands.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally? 
The book deal happened while I was spending two months in Ottawa so it was all arranged via Skype/e-mail/telephone. I’ve been to Canada a lot over the years but this trip was full of lovely moments, and we really settled into the local community, great next-door neighbours, a fantastic local pub, Quinn’s (hi Kieran!), some white-water rafting, a parade of animals through our back yard (raccoons, groundhogs and even a skunk). Just perfect. 

Favourite book in 2018?
I loved The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh. A slightly futuristic thriller set in a small gated community in the middle of the USA.  All the residents are in a kind of witness-protection scheme. The problem is they’ve all had their memories wiped so they don’t know whether they were good guys or bad guys previously. And then people start to die. I can’t sum it up any better than Dennis Lehane (who could?!) so I’ll just give you his quote “a propulsive and meaningful meditation on redemption and loss. It’s witty, electrifying, vivid, and thoroughly original” 

That would have been a clear winner but I have just finished Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li and the strength she somehow summoned up to write this fictionalised version of her own rape, including giving the rapist a narrative voice deserves every accolade going. It’s a remarkable book which will leave you in awe: powerful, though often distressing, but beautifully written and entirely admirable. 

Favourite film in 2018?
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
is quite brilliant, with fantastic performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and the always excellent Sam Rockwell. Should have won the Oscar. A Quiet Place also deserves a mention, a great idea, superbly executed. 

Favourite song of the year? 
The band I’ve listened to most this year is Gang of Youths, who are huge in Australia but practically unknown over here. The only downside of being in Canada this summer was that I missed their UK tour when they played in some very small venues. I’m sure the next time they’ll be playing stadiums. Their album Go Farther in Lightness is practically perfect, check out Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane or Keep Me In The Open. As a bonus, their lead singer David Le’aupepe is a very cool (and very good-looking) dude.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I don’t think I’ve ever been as out-of-step with the rest of the world in my life. Just about every political event is beyond my comprehension, Trump, May, Johnson, Brexit, Tommy-fucking-Robinson, all completely inexplicable to me. I’m getting to the burying-my-head-in-the-sand-and-hoping-it-will-all-go-away point. Thoroughly depressing.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Don’t do resolutions but plenty of plans. I’ve got to finish the as yet untitled Book 2. I’m heading to several crime writing festivals: Newcastle Noir, Harrogate and Bloody Scotland. And I’m very much looking forward to returning to Glastonbury again, where hopefully Gang of Youths will play. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Last year I wanted a book deal, the cancellation of Brexit and the impeachment of Donald Trump. One out of three ain’t bad but I’d still like the other two this time around.

On a personal note, I’m hearing rumours that the publication date for my first book The Man on the Street (currently March 2020) may be brought forward to Autumn 2019. I’d love them to be true.

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

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

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

Portrait with orange dress

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