Tag Archives: series

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: 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

Review: ‘No Man’s Land’ by Neil Broadfoot


A mutilated body is found dumped at Cowane’s Hospital in the heart of Stirling.

The brutality of the murder is like nothing DCI Malcolm Ford has ever seen before, and he pledges to catch the murderer before he strikes again. For reporter Donna Blake it’s a shot at the big time, a chance to get her career back on track while proving her doubters wrong. And for close protection specialist Connor Fraser it’s just a grisly distraction from his day job.

But then another corpse is found in the shadow of the Wallace Monument – and with it, a message. One Connor has received before, during his time as a police officer in Belfast.

With Ford facing mounting pressure to make an arrest and quell fears the murders are somehow connected to heightened post-Brexit tensions, Connor is drawn into a race against time to stop another murder. But to do so, he must question old loyalties, confront his past and unravel a mystery that some would sacrifice anything – and anyone – to protect.

No Man’s Land‘, the first in the Connor Fraser series, is a compelling read that keeps readers guessing until the very end. Drawing upon his experience as a journalist, Broadfoot gives the readers a rare insight into how media, police and politics intersect during times of crisis. 

The grisly murders may pull the reader into this crime novel but it’s Broadfoot’s skilled analysis of political policies that gives this the story real depth. ‘No Man’s Land‘ is a confident study in how ordinary people are affected by the decisions made by an elite few. 

Broadfoot has written a novel that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go. 

Today is the publication day for ‘No Man’s Land‘, I recommend you get your copy now. 

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Alan Parkinson

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hosting the first ever Noir at the Bar in Sunderland as part of Sunderland’s Creative Writing Festival. One of the writers on the bill that night was the lovely Alan Parkinson

Alan is here today to talk about how his work life has affected his writing. If you haven’t read any of Alan’s work, I strongly recommend that you do. You can also catch Alan on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

IMG_5043.jpgTwo years ago, I gave up the day job to become a full-time writer and there were many things I took into consideration. Could I afford it? Despite the romanticised image of life as a writer, it is generally a poorly paid profession.

Would I be taken seriously? I’d self-published two novels at that stage. They’d done well but was that enough to sustain a career in writing?

Would my friends ever stop thinking I was unemployed? The answer to that one is no, they still ask if I’ve got a ‘proper job’.

One thing I hadn’t considered, and possibly the most crucial thing of all, was would I lose my most valuable source of material?

Writing is all about observation. Noticing the small detail in things and shaping it into your own little world. I thrive on seeing humour in every situation, even the darkest moments, and thinking about how I can use it in a future story.

Whether they realise it or not, my workmates were a deep well of idiosyncrasies, amusing phrases and peculiar behaviours. As were the hundreds of people I saw on my commute each day and the thousands I encountered on my daily lunchtime wander around Newcastle. I was giving that up to sit at my posh writing desk, on my posh writing chair (I soon moved to the settee) and meet and talk to nobody other than the Amazon delivery driver and my elderly neighbour asking me to fix her laptop again.

This is why you see so many dull novels where the protagonist is a writer struggling to put words on a page; by becoming a writer they have lost their inspiration.

Leg It

That’s not to say I’ve ever taken person wholesale and put them in a book; I’ve yet to meet anybody interesting enough. I steal one characteristic and match it with another, and another from somebody else, and shape a new character.

I do the same with situations. I’ll take real life situations, adapt and exaggerate them with different characters to make my story come alive.

When I worked for one of the world’s largest banks. In a period of months, we had one colleague locked up for murder, one for attempted murder and another for a dodgy internet history. I’ve never considered any of them worthy of writing about because they are all a bit ‘obvious’.  It’s the little things that are funny and give your story life.

It’s over fifteen years since I worked in a call centre but my short time there has inspired two novels, Idle Threats and my current work in progress, Troll Life. Anybody who has ever worked in a call centre or phoned one will recognise the utter despair and understand how it can drive people to extremes. 

Idle Threats

I’ve never been in an armed siege, or dressed as a Mexican, or dealt with an irate customer in their pyjamas but my experience in a call centre helped me make this unlikely scenario realistic.

I don’t regret my decision for a minute but every now and then I long for a workmate who would say “I wish Andrea would move to one side, so I can get a good blast of her fan.”

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