Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Wrecking Crew (Janac's #2) by Mark Chisnell

This is Mark Chisnell's second outing for psychotic villain Janac. His team attack an old cargo ship under the charge of captain Phil Hamnet as a part of his latest venture. To Janac's delight also on board is Hamnet's heavily pregnant wife Anna. Back to the sort of mind games he delighted in during his first outing in The Defector he takes Anna hostage, initially to buy Hamnet's silence. However after his escape Hamnet has to deal with his conscience and decide whether the life of his wife and children are more valuable than the lives of many more sailors. For Janac the deal is even sweeter when he learns about Hamnet's past.
The Wrecking Crew

This book has similar threads to the first in the series, with the exotic locale, sailing and psychological games in common. However the cast of characters is almost entirely new, which allows the author to develop his intelligent villain while presenting a whole new story. The maritime aspect is slightly less important this time but provides a dynamic backdrop for parts of the tale.

Hamnet is a complicated character with an uncertain past. I sympathised with the dilemma he faced but found some of his actions hard to understand. Although he is helped, and hindered, by a number of people Hamnet and Janac really are the key protagonists and by far the best defined. I think my favourite aspect of the book is the fascination Hamnet holds for Janac, and his attempts to figure out how his victim will react to the pressure being applied.

As with The Defector this is full of action but provides plenty to think about. I have developed a strange and slightly worrying fondness for Janac over the course of the two books, and really enjoyed this psychological thriller.

Format: Kindle, freebie
My Rating: 4*

Friday, 21 December 2012

Guest Post - Plotting After Powder Burn Part 3 by Mark Chisnell

Plotting After Powder Burn - Part 3

In 'Plotting After Powder Burn - Part 1', I talked about the search for a plot for my fifth novel, which would be the second in a series starring American wannabe-journo, Sam Blackett. I’d always had a particular story in mind for this second book, but I was worried that it had similarities to the 'Janac's Games' stories, and I felt I should make a break from those boat-and-action dominated tales.

I finished Part 2 concerned that the second book should be more urban, and more of an investigation than an action thriller. I went off to find out what Lee Child did with Jack Reacher in books one and two, as this series is the model for the Sam Blackett stories. Well, it took a while - and there's been a few blogs floated under the bridge on other topics since then - but I'm finally back to thinking about plotting after Powder Burn.

I can report that Lee Child started the Jack Reacher series with Killing Floor, written in the first person about a counterfeiting fraud set in a small town in Georgia, and mixing action with investigation. He followed that up with Die Trying, which switched to the third person but maintained the mix of action and investigation.

Powder Burn is mostly action with the mystery-element relegated to a relatively minor role - and so I think I definitely need to introduce more of an investigative storyline to the Sam Blackett series in the second book. I've also thought a lot about the milieu for this story and I now feel even more strongly that I should try and find an urban setting for the book, to help me break out of the ghetto of 'sailing author' that I fear I'm in danger of drowning in...

So far so good - now any decent investigation needs a murder, preferably linked to a serious criminal conspiracy. I've been casting around for just such a conspiracy and I think I've found it. There's always been a huge market in counterfeit aircraft parts; they look and feel like the real thing, but are often made much more cheaply from sub-standard materials with low-cost manufacturing techniques. Consequently, they don't have anything like the same life span as the real deal.

This fact might worry you if you fly a lot, but while the safety hazards of this fake parts trade has been well known for a while, there now appears to be a national security risk too - the trade has spread to military aircraft. This is the sort of criminal conspiracy a good thriller needs - a gang plotting to make a fortune from selling fake parts to the USAF for the F-22 Raptor, the planet's most expensive fighter?

Or, maybe it's drone parts - these things are much more controversial (anyone been watching Homelands?) and that might really ramp the story up. It also plays into a theme I've been thinking about for a while: Western military supremacy relies on cheap and effective offensive dominance. It used to be gunboats, and machine guns against spears. These tools provided such a massive military advantage that they enabled the use of force at a minimal cost of lives - vitally important to politicians in a democracy.

The drone strike is the modern version of this, allowing the US to use swift and brutal violence at zero (direct risk) of US casualties. So what if the fake parts conspiracy threatened the drones, and this politically vital means of applying American power in the hot spots of the world? I can feel my story juices already starting to flow...

Friday, 14 December 2012

Guest Post - Plotting After Powder Burn Part 2 by Mark Chisnell

Plotting After Powder Burn – Part 2

In Plotting Part 1 I talked about the search for a plot for my fifth novel, which would be the second in a series starring American wannabe-journo, Sam Blackett. I’d always had a particular story in mind for this second book, but now I’m starting to wonder... are there any rules for the second book in a thriller series?
My original plot would find Sam in Fiji, trying to warm up after the Himalayan adventure of Powder Burn She’s been cruising around the islands for a few months after the success of her Powder Burn story, published in Adventure, and her career is starting to roll.

Then she bumps into an old friend from the States, he’s skippering a boat on a search for the perfect wave. A rich investor has hired him to do up the boat, and skipper it on a voyage through the Pacific Islands. They are looking for a place to build a hotel, a hotel with five star service and access to a completely empty, and perfectly ride-able wave for well-heeled amateur surfers. Scenting a story, Sam agrees to join him as a deck-hand and off they go...

What she doesn’t know is that the boat was bought very cheaply from the Singapore authorities, after they had confiscated it from a local criminal. He was using it to run drugs and girls out to the frustrated crewmen stuck on merchant ships, and awaiting their turn in Singapore’s massive container terminal. And what no one knows is that there’s still a huge stash of drugs hidden aboard the boat. Inevitably (this is a thriller), the drugs come to light at the worst possible moment...

And that’s the set-up – originally I thought the drugs would be found after they were wrecked on an island. The story would then go the way of a descent into madness and survival, a la Lord of the Flies, or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But now I’m thinking there’s also potential for a more conventional suspense thriller – a chase story, as the drug dealer comes after his boat and his stash.

Problems... first up, this is territory I’ve mined before. The Defector is all about a boat chase and a struggle for survival. And in Powder Burn I take a step away from boats, which will either:

a) Open my books up to a wider readership.

b) Kill my career stone dead.

Perhaps I’d be better off looking for a more conventional plot idea, something urban, something to complete the transition away from seaborne adventure in exotic places. The model for this series is Lee Child’s Jack Reacher stories, in which (in case you’ve been locked in a cupboard these past few years) a hero wanders alone across America, having random adventures. Child shifts from out-and-out action/suspense, to a more investigative-style of plot - he even shifts from first to third person.

I see Sam in the same way – so perhaps the second story should establish that MO right at the outset. Urban, and more of an investigation than an action thriller. And with that thought, I’m off to find out what Lee Child did with Jack Reacher in books one and two... back shortly. Or longly, depending on how busy I get...


Friday, 7 December 2012

Guest Post - Plotting After Powder Burn by Mark Chisnell

Plotting After Powder Burn – Part 1

One of the things I've learned about being a writer is that you have to keep the ideas flowing. And while I'm deep in the middle of what I hope will be the final rewrite for my next book, Powder Burn, I'm already worrying about the one after.
It’s time to start thinking about ideas for novel number five. I’ve decided to go for a series this time, kicking off with a sequel to Powder Burn. The main reason for this is that I just love the main character in this book, an American girl called Sam Blackett; here’s a little bit of Powder Burn that will give you a feel for her character:

She looked back down to the screen and the single email in her inbox. She’d sent out twenty-five more query letters to different newspaper and magazine editors just after she’d arrived in the city. All with ideas for travel stories. Score to date: zip for fourteen - all rejections. And the single email that glared back at her this morning? From her mother. Two months in India, nearly a month now in the Himalayas and only one story sold: to the Vermont Gazette, where her mother job-shared as office manager with Penelope-from-across-the-road. And she’d told this guy and his two mates that if they let her come with them, she would write up their expedition for Adventure magazine. She hadn’t thought they were serious. She had about as much chance of placing a story with Adventure as she did of winning a Pulitzer. Still, he wasn’t to know that. She glanced up, and caught Pete’s gaze for a moment...

In Powder Burn, Sam starts out as a spectacularly unsuccessful freelance journalist, gets herself into a whole world of trouble, somehow gets out of it intact - and with a helluva story to tell. It’s the break she needs for her writing career, and the idea of the series is that we follow her through various adventures and scrapes in pursuit of the next story.

The $64 million dollar question is... what story is next?

Like many writers I keep an ideas folder on my computer, and unlike most writers mine’s stuffed full of badly written paragraphs about a news item, or the thesis of a book, or just a couple of lines from a non-fiction account of something that interested me. This is where stories come from, or at least, it’s where my stories come from.

So I thought I’d write a few blogs working through some of those ideas, testing them out as stories and seeing where they might go. I’ve got a few months before I get Powder Burn finished, so there’s no rush. By the time I get around to the new book I should have plenty of potential stories, and with a bit of luck some idea of what potential readers think of them... I'll be back next week with the first


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Coming Up

I've been a bit quiet of late, I know! The monkey is keeping me very much occupied and as if I'm not busy enough she keeps passing me bugs she comes across at nursery. I'm sure it's a familiar story. 

Anyhoo, this is just a heads up that I have a series of guest posts coming up on the blog. I have reviewed a couple of Mark Chisnell's books on the blog and in this series of posts he shares his progress in planning the plot for his next novel. I hope you will enjoy them and find them as interesting as I have! Please drop back on Friday and have a read of the first in the series. 

In the meantime you can find Mark's website here , his Facebook page here and find him on Twitter - @MarkChisnell 

Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler's Siren and America's Hero by Terry Frei

Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler's Siren and America's HeroLeni Riefenstahl, having become well known as a dancer and actress, moved into film making - quite a feat in the nineteen thirties for a woman. However her renown was more due to the documentaries she made for the Nazis prior to World War II, and the rumours surrounding her relationship with Hitler than her gender. On the other side of the Atlantic Glenn Morris is a young athlete who is due to complete at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He's a small town boy who finds himself in the spotlight as one of the favourites to win the decathlon. This book is a fictionalised account of how they meet and the affair she claimed towards the end of her life that the pair had.

I really enjoy historical fiction, and especially recent history and tales with a firm factual basis, so this was right up my street. As well as providing an account of the developing relationship between the two, and their individual endeavours to reach the top of their field, it provides a great picture of the international fears of the coming of a second world war and the build up to that in Germany. Seeing Berlin through the eyes of the visiting athletes who try and rationalise what they are encountering provided a nice spectrum of views of what was happening at the time. 

As far as the main protagonists go Leni isn't a particularly sympathetic character. She is a demanding task master who has a way of putting her own spin on events to cast herself in a positive light. She comes across as slightly delusional and I couldn't quite get a handle on how she really felt about the relationship, and whether she really saw it as anything more than a career move. Glenn on the other hand came across as a charming small town boy whose life changes dramatically, although not necessarily in the way he had envisioned. His relationship with Leni takes a toll and seems to affect the rest of his life - a life that was full of promise.

I found reading about his preparations for the Olympics and her career to that point very interesting and enjoyed the development of their affair and the less factual part. At points the narrative was a bit too matter of fact, with lists of how came where in what event with times or distances. It makes for interesting footnotes but in most cases didn't really add anything for me. However in this blend of fact and fiction it was more forgiveable than it might have been otherwise. As always I appreciated the authors note at the end that helped distinguish where the line between the two was. My one wish would have been for more about what happened to the pair in the longer term than the relatively brief summary of the rest of their lives. It seems that the brief period of time had a lifelong impact and I would have very happily read more. Other than that I thought this was a very good read.

Format: ARC, anticipated release date 16th December 2012
Publisher: Rowman and Littlefield
My Rating: 4*

Friday, 23 November 2012

Dead Religion by David Beers

Alex Valdez has spent most of his life trying to get away from a nightmare that has haunted him and destroyed his parents. When Alex is linked to a terrorist attack on a hotel in Mexico City FBI Agent James Allison is despatched to find out what happened and why, before the incident becomes a major diplomatic issue. He uncovers a history of mental illness, which started when his parents held an ancient blood rite to awaken a forgotten God. This is part thriller part horror, told from several viewpoints as the Aztec God finds himself growing in strength once more.
Dead Religion

In the early part of the book we discover plenty of Alex's recent past and a little of his early life with parents haunted and hunted before they met an early death. Although his supportive wife and a therapist at one point persuade him that his nightmares are nothing more than that over time he begins to doubt once more and descends back into terror. It had the definite air of a thriller about it, but as events began to pick up pace the story telling moved more firmly into the realm of horror with plenty of blood and gore, and a vengeful God who is now hunting more and more people associated with Alex. I really felt his growing unease, and eventual terror. He was definitely the most well rounded of the characters, and although Allison plays quite a key role there were other characters that featured less but struck more of a chord with me.

On the whole the book was well written and nicely paced. The foundations were well laid early on with a gradual addition of more and more information to really put flesh on the bones of the story. Some of the descriptions made me flinch and I liked that this was a horror with a decent back story rather than the protagonists facing some vague, ill defined malevolence. However there were a few typos that should have been picked up and I felt the epilogue left too much unresolved for my liking. However as an entirety I really enjoyed this read.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Friday, 9 November 2012

One Last Lie by Rob Kaufman

One Last Lie Philip and Jonathan are a devoted couple whose dream of having a child together was stopped in its tracks after cancer left Philip infertile, and Jonathan was reluctant to pass on his obsessive compulsive genes. When Philip's old college friend Angela reappears in his life after 15 years, having conquered obesity and depression, she has a suggestion they feel could benefit them all. She wants to be a mother and is happy to let them have contact with the child if they will provide the sperm. Although friends have concerns about the idea they plough ahead, only for the situation to deteriorate rapidly once Angela is living nearby and pregnant.

The story moves between the present, where Jonathan is in a home seeing out his days and waiting for his life to be over, and the past. Although it moves around in time the progression of the story in the past is pretty linear, and we get various viewpoints to help the reader see the full picture, so it's not too hard to keep up with. 

A lot of the book is setting up for the dramatic unravelling of the relationship between the couple and Angela, and paints the two men as a warm, clever and caring couple surrounded by good friends and with a wonderful life. Angela on the other hand is clearly scheming in the background and has a temper that she carefully hides until it is too late. The latter part of the book sees events quickly unfold after just a few small alarm bells start to go off and Angela's plotting ends in tragedy. The very end throws up one final surprise. It  was something that had crossed my mind while I was reading but I certainly wasn't expecting it, and it wrapped the book up nicely.

One Last Lie is a tale of a warped woman who sets out the get what she wants at the expense of others. She is deceitful  manipulative and I couldn't find a single redeeming factor, so she is the perfect foil to the men who couldn't be more different. Seeing how much had gone into her plot made me dislike her more and more. 

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I only have a couple of criticisms. The balance of the book felt a bit off, with the unveiling of Angela happening very hurriedly towards the end after a long set up. I also noticed a few silly typos that should have been picked up easily - nothing major but a little distracting. It was definitely worth the time I spent reading it though.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Friday, 2 November 2012

Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis

Invisible Murder is the second book in the series, coming on the heels of New York Times bestseller The Boy in the Suitcase. I missed the first book but the blurb for this one had me drawn in.

In Hungary two young Roma gypsy boys are scavenging in an old Soviet military hospital when they are able to access a formerly sealed up area and find something that could make them a lot of money. Their actions could threaten the lives of many others though. In Denmark nurse Nina is used to being in close contact with the poor and dispossessed but this time her work is about to damage everything she holds dear. Elsewhere Sandor is trying to escape his roots and make a good life for himself, but his new world is about to come crumbling down around him.

The story is told from a number of perspective and draws together several strands to an unlikely climax. In addition to the above we also see events unfold from the perspective of a Security detective, trying to head off terrorist threats, and an elderly man who thinks his wife is frittering away their life savings. It is clear how some of the threads dovetail but it takes right until the end to neatly tie them all together. Although there is a lot going on and plenty of characters to keep in mind I didn't find it hard to keep the strands clear or keep up with what was happening. The themes are very topical and I love that the ending wasn't what I had been expecting.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that it had a plot that kept moving and was full of little twists and turns but that it also had some great characters with real depth to them, where some thrillers like this get carried away with plot and offer slightly flat protagonists. Nina is devoted to her work  with the underground Network and determined to do what she can to look after children who need her, although husband Morten sees this as being at the expense of her own children. I also felt for Sandor while being slightly sorry for him feeling he almost had to deny where he came from. As a Roma man he is acutely aware of the discrimination his people face but wants to have a career. When his half brother comes bowling back into his life he struggles with uniting his two very different worlds. I felt for him as he became more controlled by others.

I really enjoyed this book and will try and get to the previous book at some point in the future.

Format: Kindle, review copy
Publisher: Soho Crime
My Rating: 4*

Friday, 26 October 2012

Frankenstein's Confessional by J. Stephen Howard

It feels like ages since I read a short story anthology and with Halloween coming up this looked like the ideal book. This is a collection of stories about people whose lives have taken a wrong turn for various reasons. Whether it stems from human emotions like jealousy or revenge, or something in the realm of the supernatural, but all of the characters have chilling stories to tell.  These tales are their confessions, the confessions of a parade of "monsters"

Frankenstein's ConfessionalThe writing is fluid and the stories varied. Many of them leave elements open to the reader's interpretation which, in this case, I appreciated. Often the unknown is far more unnerving than things that are explained. There were definitely some I enjoyed more than others. I make no bones about not being a great fan of vampires and werewolves, and while the vampire story didn't do much for me I like the story about the werewolf with regrets. Some stories shone out above the rest, like the tale of the guitar pick with strange powers about it.

This isn't an out and out gorefest, although there are some blood and guts to be found. Generally the stories provided more psychological thrills which I appreciated. None of them were quite in the league that I found myself getting tense or scared reading them though. There is a real mix, some of the individual stories would probably only get 2* from me while others were a definite 4*. Overall this is a good collection and got me more in the mood for Halloween. Just one hint, if you get this book, would be skip the intro - I found it gave away too many of the stories.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 3*

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Stealing the Marbles by E J Knapp

Stealing the MarblesDanny Samsel is at the top of his chosen profession, but his success has a price. His most recent job was so high profile he has had to get out of the limelight for a while, and has spent a year in exile on the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia. Danny is a master thief and his last job involved liberating a painting from the White House. As a result he is a person of interest to various law enforcement agencies. Now he is getting itchy feet and has his eyes on a new prize. He is determined to find a way to return the Elgin Marbles, or the Parthenon Marbles, to the Greeks and is planning on calling on a gang of his international contacts, including estranged girlfriend Kaz, to make it happen.

The book is essentially divided into two parts, the planning and the execution. The first part really put me in mind of Oceans Eleven, which is no bad thing. Danny is a thief with his own moral code. He grew up stealing only what he needed to survive but is now driven to get unseen art back into the public eye and return works to their rightful owners. He intends to make no money from stealing the Marbles, merely doing so to right what he sees as a wrong and for the pure challenge of it. Whether you agree with his views or not he's a bit of a charmer and I was quick to warm to him. Danny has amassed a useful list of contacts after years stealing, and many of his colleagues have their own little eccentricities. I enjoyed meeting the characters and finding out about Danny, and appreciated the degree of tension stemming from Danny's unidentified but determined pursuers. The pace stepped up in the second part as the team started to mobilise and put the plan into action. I'm not going to even think about revealing whether the team are successful or not so will leave the plot there!

I pretty much devoured this book, enjoying the mix of quirky characters, political overtones and global travel to beautifully described locations. While there is plenty of tension and action there is also humour and romance to balance it out. This is a gratifying romp of a heist with a bit more depth than I had expected, which was all to the good. A definite 5* book!

Format: Paperback, review copy
Publishers: Rebel ePublishers
My Rating: 5*

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey by Alison Wearing

Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian JourneyI picked this book up in a charity shop some time ago and it has been waiting on the shelf for my attention. This is the story of a Canadian woman travelling Iran with her "husband" It details the places and the people, and gives a little thought to the attitudes of the West towards Iran and some of the customs that draw the most attention, such as the wearing of the hijab.  
This book in now 11 years old and much has happened to that country in the meantime but it was still shed an interesting light on the attitudes of the people that the author encountered. An overwhelming feeling of a largely generous and hospitable populace comes across, and also one that was concerned about the image of Iran in the eyes of outsiders. The largely warm reception is tempered by patience trying bureaucracy and brushes with more militant sections of the community.

I would have liked to have read a little more about the places the author visited and been given a bit more detail about their travels, but found her portraits of the people she met endearing and was very interested in her changing opinion of the benefits and disadvantages of having to wear the hijab and chador.

This was a really easy read that took me no time at all to get through. I'd be interested to read a recent equivalent to compare and contrast!

Format: Paperback, from a charity shop
Publisher: Picador
My Rating: 4*

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Scottish Movie by Paul Collis

The Scottish MovieThis book is a study of life imitating art. Writer Harry Greenville pens a novel considering why Macbeth gained its reputation as an unlucky play. The story suggests that Shakespeare stole the idea from another writer, passing it off as his own, and that the creator of the tale inserts himself into the production getting his revenge on Shakespeare by wreaking havoc. Harry posts the first draft online hoping it will be discovered and will get him work. Instead a second rate Hollywood has-been hears Harry's concept and purloins it. When Harry discovers his story is being turned into a blockbuster film he decides he has to follow the path of the lead man in his own novel.

This book starts out with an excerpt of Harry's novel, based in London in 1606. This sets up the plot really well and suited the side of me that loves historical fiction. It then moves on to current day LA and sees Harry fall victim to the same scam. I shared Harry's girlfriend's concerns about how far he would take his revenge and was hoping to see him discover a legal redress rather than relying on slightly dubious means of disrupting filming. What unfolds is a clever cocktail of juvenile pranks and well-orchestrated sabotage.

Harry and his friends and allies represent the little people with big hopes, likeable and determined to right and wrong, while those complicit in using his idea for personal gain were suitably sleazy and disreputable. The way Harry pursues his campaign against the wrongdoers made for a really good, at times amusing read. It was a good easy read, largely driven by the clever plot with some interesting insights into the film business, and the ending certainly wasn't what I was expecting. Another good showing by Paul Collis!

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A World Apart (The Elencheran Chronicles) by David M. Brown

This is my second encounter with the Elencheran Chronicles, having read Fezariu's Epiphany last year. The series is set in the same world and features the same places and races but as far as I could see there was no interraction between the characters in the two books. I found this a bit unusual but it actually works well.
A World Apart (The Elencheran Chronicles)
In A World Apart we meet Demetrius and his family and friends, from Doves Meadow. While his father is a gentle shepherd Demetrius has a famed soldier for a grandfather, and under Granicus' tutelage his future is shaped. The decisions Demetrius makes as a young man will have profound effects on more than just his immediate acquaintances. 

This is part of an epic saga, with tales of magic, piracy and military life, and the book covers Demetrius' lifetime and beyond. As a result of the amount of detail I felt I really got to know Demetrius and those around him, and each time I picked the book up again was like returning to see what old friends were up to. I felt for Demetrius when faced with each of the major trials in his life, yet had moments of hope. I also found myself slightly torn as to whether I should be rooting for Demetrius, staunch defender of the ruling Order, or whether the pirates, seeking to liberate the world from Colonists, were in the right. 

Brown has created an interesting world and characters to fill it. However, while I know it's perfectly acceptable for a book of this type to be considerably longer than say a crime thriller (more my normal fare) I felt that this long tale could have been edited more tightly and the length reduced a little. There were places where I felt the author should have given his abilities in drawing the reader to a conclusion, and the reader's ability to draw the right one, more credit. In a number of places rather than leaving the reader to make the jump to the conclusion they should be drawing it was then spelt out plain as day. There were also some recaps of the tale to date that I found unnecessary and diverted the flow of the story somewhat.

Overall I enjoyed my visit to Elenchera and definitely wouldn't be adverse to visiting again in the future.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My rating: 3*

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Killerbyte (Ellie Conway series) by Cat Connor

KillerbyteI had my first experience of this series back in June, perhaps not entirely sensibly starting with the 4th book Flashbyte. I said at the time I wanted to go back and start at the beginning and now I have. As if being an FBI agent doesn't put enough on her plate Ellie Conway also runs a poetry chat room with friend Mac. Sounds harmless enough but on the same night that she gets a record number of death threats the virtual becomes all too real. When her would be killer turns up dead himself, in the boot of her car, it becomes clear she is dealing with more than just a disgruntled poet. The body count keeps rising and Ellie and Mac struggle to stay one step ahead of the seemingly omniscient murderer. 

I really took to Ellie reading Flashbyte and as a character she is just as likeable in this book. Despite the pressure she is under she shows she is one tough woman and still displays a sense of humour. Things don't just fall into place magically for her, although the big break in the case does come from a chance remark. Her family is complicated and, between finding out about her parents and brother and seeing her become closer to Mac, she becomes a character with depth. 

The story packs one punch after another, some of them in a slightly stomach churning way. As more and more chat room patrons turn up dead and Ellie and Mac keep moving to try and keep those around them safe a couple of good suspects emerge, but just when I thought I had it all sussed I discovered I was wrong. There was some benefit from reading the books out of order, as I recognised some characters who turned up in Flashbyte, and eventually I will work my way through the others in the series.

This is an eventful crime thriller, and from my point of view all the better for having a strong woman who I could imagine having as a friend in the lead. It misses out on being five stars by a narrow margin, although I would rate Cat Connor's series as on a par with some of the heavy hitters of the genre.

Format: Kindle, review copy
Publisher: Rebel ePublishers
My Rating: 4*

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

The Resurrectionist After killing my kindle I had to turn to my bookshelves for a read for my commute to work. I picked this book up at a swap event on World Book Night and have been meaning to read it for a while.

Gentleman's son Gabriel arrives in London in 1826 to study with one of the city's greatest anatomists. It is a time where the study of the human body is thriving, but to serve the demand for cadavers there is a seamier side to the city. Not only is Gabriel exposed to body snatchers, he also begins to associate with prostitutes and drug users. In time he is drawn to the underworld and discovers how easy it is to forget your morals. Transferring his allegiance to his tutor's rival signals the end of his life as a respectable young man.

I love historical fiction and this was an alluring prospect. This is essentially a book of three parts; the young man finding his feet in a new city, the descent into addiction and crime and what comes thereafter. The author offers up a dark view of the London of the time, with plenty of description to conjure up the feel of places Gabriel visits. Some of the descriptions of the work of the grave robbers and anatomists made me feel a bit queasy, being fairly blunt. However as evocative as the writing is, I began to find the narrative wordy and had to stop myself skimming the text on more than one occasion.

I found that the tale was very nuanced and a lot of information was left to inference and supposition. I don't mind an author leaving parts open to interpretation but it was too frequent in this book and I felt like I was doing all the work. I struggled to get through the second part in particular, despite it being to most shocking part of the tale, but felt the novel was redeemed by the final part. Possibly because the characters and their conduct remained fairly mysterious I didn't really care what happened to any of them, which was a shame because they should have been a rich cast.

Had it not been for the third part of the book I think I'd have given this book a lower rating than I have. However the ending rounded off the story in a way I appreciated and I preferred the slightly different feel to it. Overall it's not a book I'd recommend and I think I'd want to sample any other work by the author before buying another one of his books.

Format: Paperback
Publisher: Faber & Faber
My Rating: 2*

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Advent - Angels of the Night by Wyatt Damon

Advent - Angels of the Night"After being called a freak for as long as he can remember, Angelo knows his 18th birthday will change his entire life. He comes from a family of demons and, on that day, he will become one of them. He is determined to do what is right, unlike his father, who murdered his mother.

But unlike his family, Angelo’s curiosity leads him to knowledge that puts his family and friends’ lives in danger. When mysterious murders occur in Graven, The Town of Angels, Angelo fears that an old enemy may be back to finish a job. 

He is faced with the ultimate decision: to stay on the Light side, and try, with all his might, to become an angel like his mother, or join Hell’s Army and bring the world to its knees" From

I don't often read books that feature demons, werewolves or any of their like, but the blurb for this book struck me as being as little bit different so I decided to give it a go.

The book starts with a fearful young boy being protected from harm by his devoted brothers. Having set the scene we then pick up the thread as Angelo approaches his 18th birthday. He is afraid of his upcoming transition to demon, and is scared that the circle of friends and the life he has found will fall apart. Brothers Leon and Eric are there to guide him but none of the three have a full idea of what they are about to face.

Told in the first person from Angelo's viewpoint we find a young man who really wants to be normal; hang with friends, find a girlfriend, avoid the school bully, but is facing a terrifying situation. We discover more about his situation as he slowly uncovers the truth about who and what he is. I liked Angelo and his love interest, and felt for him trying to overcome the conflict he's faced with but found some of the characters a bit like caricatures and wasn't as invested in any of them as I probably should have been to have made the most of this story.

As far as the plot went, the murders mentioned in the blurb didn't really feature until later in the book and their introduction into the plot felt a bit forced and the fact they had occurred was largely glossed over and neither here nor there really. I think they could have been left out and had no negative effect overall.

Some of the writing conveyed the tension and fear well but at times the action scenes felt a bit rushed and I found myself struggling to keep visualising what was happening. I also found some of it a bit predictable and when I got towards the end and realised the tale would only be concluded in a later book was a bit disappointed. I'm not sure I'm enthusiast enough about it to read any more but didn't really get a proper conclusion.

Maybe this was a step too far outside my comfort zone and other people might love this book, but for me it was just okay.

Format: Kindle, review copy
Publisher: Rebel ePublishers
My Rating: 2*

Disaster Over!

If I've been a bit quiet lately it's mostly because I had a minor disaster the other night. I'd been sat on the sofa reading, put my kindle on the floor reading to pick up again, went to get a drink and when I came back and sat down managed to send the TV remote plummeting onto my kindle. In a bout of pointless optimism, despite the fact most of the page had frozen bar a small square in the corner edged with black and white stripes, I tried an overnight charge and a reset but to no avail. 

My kindle was well out of warranty and as it was purely my fault the call I put in to Amazon was more out of hope for some magic bullet to fix my poor kindle than in expectation of getting a new one. They weren't that kind but in their usual helpful manner they did offer me a 20-25% discount off of certain models. 

As it happens none of those was the 3G keyboard version which I wanted, and I had some gift vouchers for one of the UK retailers who stock kindles so this morning I have now been able to sort out my kindlelessness. I'm very happy to have a working one again; I have got the kindle app on my laptop but don't like reading on it, and I don't have such a massive stack of books to read on my shelves! Amazon also deserve another pat on the back for the help they gave me today with changing my kindle email address. On my old kindle I had an address that was just my name, the new one was followed by a random number. A quick click for a callback and about 3 minutes on the phone with a very friendly member of staff got that swapped round no problem.

I'm now in the process of moving all my books back into their collections (it's gonna take a while!) and I'm looking forward to getting back to the book I was reading when it died. I'm sure I was about to get to a pivotal bit! 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Coming Soon: The Uninvited (Krewe of Hunters series) by Heather Graham

The UninvitedThis is Book 8 in the Krewe of Hunters series. I only read book 4 (The Evil Inside) in August last year, also as an advance review copy, so I had to go and double check I was right that this was the 8th. And it is, Heather Graham is a machine!

This book is set in a Philadelphia mansion that is a feature of the city's tourist trail. There are plenty of ghost stories attached to the house, and a number of curious deaths in recent decades, but head guide and academic Allison is sceptical. When she finds a colleague dead, having apparently impaled himself on his replica bayonet, she certainly doesn't believe ghosts were involved. When there is another mysterious death and a former visitor falls into a coma rumours are flying that ghost of Butcher Bedford is the culprit but Krewe member Tyler Montague is convinced otherwise. Both Allison and Tyler believe there is an earthly explanation, and the time they spend together begins to change Allison's view of the world of the paranormal, and her initial distaste for the Krewe's involvement evolves into an overwhelming attraction for Tyler. Allison and the team have to work together to get to the bottom of the strange events and prevent more untimely deaths.

Having read two of the books in the series it appears that the members of the Krewe who mainly feature change with each book, so not having read previous stories is no handicap. This book is narrated largely from Allison's point of view and this allows the reader to discover how the Krewe work through her eyes. The writing is fluid and makes for an easy read.

I liked the overarching story in this book and was wondering which of two prime suspects would turn out to be the real villain. The book serves up a good helping of the paranormal combined with a little bit of romance and that's obviously a successful formula for this author. However I definitely preferred The Evil Inside. While I learnt a little history that I didn't already know and enjoyed the descriptions of the mansion it wasn't as thrilling as I'd like and I never really felt any sense of peril threatening the lead protagonists.

This was a good read, and I can imagine reading further books in the series but they won't be heading my To Be Read list.

Format: Kindle, ARC, anticipated release 28th August 2012
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
My Rating: 3*

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Wrong Stuff , K'Barthan Trilogy Part 2 by M. T. McGuire

The Wrong Stuff, K'Barthan Trilogy: Part 2Having already read the first book in the trilogy, Few are Chosen, I was interested to see what the Pan of Hamgee would be up to next. In this book he kicks off by rescuing the Chosen One, Ruth and whisking her away to safety. She's not particularly impressed though, especially when he then leaves her on top of a high rise building and within the grasp of Lord Vernon.  This book really progresses the story of the mysterious Candidate and their Chosen One, who will potentially save K'Barth from the governance of Lord Vernon. While looking for a safe refuge from Lord Vernon, and the Police who are keen to question them, they find help from the resistance but still have a lot of frustratingly unanswered questions. By the end the future of K'Barth hangs in the balance and the Pan still has more to go through before he has any chance of a happy ending.

While there is a lot of action and drama throughout the book, with car chases, plotting and murder, there is plenty of development of the characters. We aren't flooded with a large number of new characters, instead the author allows us to become better acquainted with those who were introduced in the first book. The Pan is as appealing as ever, so self-deprecating but well meaning. There is a definite Will they Won't they scenario with him and Ruth, with circumstances constantly getting in their way. Swamp Thing Big Merv was the revelation for me, going from the sort of gangland boss who dispatches victims to the bottom of deep rivers with concrete boots to secret softie. 

I'm not a big fantasy or sci-fi reader, partly because I find some authors' creations very off-putting, but the different species we are introduced to in the series are all very familiar but with a twist. It makes it easy to visualise the weird and wonderful characters we're introduced to. Swamp Thing Big Merv once disguised with a hat sounds not dissimilar to a member of the cast of TOWIE (ie he looks like he has a bad fake tan) and other than his flamboyant dress sense the Pan isn't immediately out of place on the streets of London. Another reason I've really enjoyed this series is because it is a bit tongue in cheek with plenty of puns thrown in. This is in the same vein as the likes of Grant Naylor's Red Dwarf series, and as that is one of my favourites it's probably no surprise this hits the mark with me. 

I found it interesting when I re-read my review of the first book that I mentioned I thought it was good for a YA audience but had enjoyed it myself, as this book didn't feel YA at all. Not because of any amount of bad language, sex or graphic violence, it just felt like a fantasy book with a comic bent. I'll be looking out for Book 3.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Dead Ringer by Allen Wyler

Dead RingerNeurosurgeon Dr Lucas McCrae is in Hong Kong to carry out what should be a routine medical demonstration. When he uncovers the cadaver head he is to perform the demonstration on he is shocked to discover it is his best friend Andy Baer. He convinces himself he must be wrong but a niggling concern grows out of control when he returns to Seattle to discover Andy is missing. Elsewhere Detective Sergeant Elliott is looking into the disappearance of a prostitute she has befriended while working undercover. The trail leads to DFH Inc, a funeral home that also provides body parts for medical research. When the pair's paths cross it seems clear there is a link between the missing people and that DFH's involvement is more than just a coincidence. Their problem is proving it, especially when there appears to be a leak in Wendy's department.

The author is a renowned neurosurgeon and his background is a clear benefit as this book is a grisly but worryingly plausible thriller. The reader is thrown into the story from the very start and I was compelled to read on to discover whether the duo would be able to link DFH to the disappearances or whether all the evidence would go up in smoke before they could find a way to prove their suspicions. 

While the main plot moves at quite a pace there is still time for the author to develop the main characters. We discover Lucas is trying to salvage a crumbling marriage and Wendy working with her ex-husband. As two intelligent attractive people thrown together in stark circumstances it's no surprise when the sparks start flying. This provides a welcome relief from the gruesome business at hand. The bad guy, DFH boss Bobby Ditto was seriously creepy, and almost convincing in his justifications for what his company is doing. The balance between moving the plot on and building characters with some depth has been well done. 

This is very much the sort of thriller I enjoy and although there is a lot to the story it is progressed in a nice linear fashion, it was not difficult to follow and for me it reached a satisfying conclusion. I think had it not been for a couple of parts which seemed to push the boundaries of what was likely this would have been a definite 5* book.

Format: Kindle, review copy
Publisher: Astor + Blue Editions
My rating: 4*

Dead Girl by Mark Boss

Dead GirlWhen I find an author I like I'm more than happy to read further books by them. Last year I read and reviewed Hired Guns by Mark Boss, and found it a refreshing action read. As such I was keen to take a look at this book. This is completely different to Hired Guns though and I have to admit that to start with I was going to just give up and stop reading because I didn't think it would be my thing. However I like to give a book a good chance, read on a bit further and found myself lured in! I don't like to put in spoilers but in this case it would be hard to write any sort of review and explain why I enjoyed it without revealing the premise so be warned before you read on.

Sixteen year old Dahlia is hospitalised after a football accident, then a subsequent scan shows she has an inoperable brain tumour. She lapses into a coma and finds her way to the Shadow Lands. This is a parallel universe where  the world she knows is crumbling. Her home town is inhabited by ferocious mutant animals and tribes of feral children. Somewhere is the monster she must find and slay (and quickly) in order to return to our world - her cancer monster. In her quest to get home she also meets Faders (ghostly individuals who have given up their fight but are yet to die) and another Relentless (a person who won't stop fighting their illness) who has been in town for some time.

Faced with strange mutant monsters chasing a girl through a grim and dank parallel world I did wonder what I was getting myself into until the main premise of the plot was revealed. I thought the idea of patients in a coma being present in an alternate reality where they have to literally battle their illness was a very clever one. While it's a pretty horrible thought, as one of the young characters points out, they'd rather be there and fighting than present in reality and suffering.

I liked Dahlia, who after overcoming her shock turns out to be a resourceful and mature 16 year old, and felt for her as she assumed responsibility for a group of young feral children despite it conflicting with her search for her monster. The other character who was less prominent but plays an important role, and who I hope will appear in future Shadow Lands books, was Fader Boy. There's a hint of potential romance and he shows that not all Faders are completely resigned to their fate, providing a little spark of hope.

The author paints a picture of a world that is all too familiar but where water permeates and ruins virtually everything that might be useful to those stuck in the Shadow Lands. I could really imagine the sort of bone aching chill from being constantly damp and cold, and think Mark did a really good job of creating the nightmare world Dahlia finds herself in.

There were a few minor typos and it's not a long book but generally I found this an absorbing read and I'm so relieved I didn't give up on it. It's such an interesting mix of horror and fantasy and I'd love to read more about the Shadow Lands. Although the main protagonist and a lot of the minor characters are young this has some rather grim moments so it's probably not suitable for younger readers, although I can imagine the appeal for perhaps mid teens upwards. 

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Coming Soon - Champagne: The Farewell by Janet Hubbard

Champagne: The FarewellNYPD Detective Max Maguire is something of a disappointment to her French mother, due to her failure to fully embrace the French language and culture. As such she is delighted to help her prepare for a trip to France for friend Chloe's wedding on her family's grand estate in Champagne, near Paris. On her arrival she meets Olivier Chaumont, an examining magistrate who catches her eye as she overcomes the day old break up with her ex-boyfriend. The wedding is a beautiful, stylish affair but the fairytale is abruptly ended when the bride's aunt is found dead. Lea de Saint Pern was beautiful and successful, having taken over the reins of her late husband's champagne company. 

Max and Olivier's potential romance is halted in its tracks as they are jolted back into professional mode. Max is refused a formal role in the investigation into her murder but is determined to help, using skills inherited from her well-known detective father. Olivier is also hindered by colleagues with their own agenda and the two soon start collaborating. Max's approach starts unearthing numerous family secrets and the duo compile an ever lengthening list of people with a motive to kill Lea. Their route to finding the killer is punctuated with a Will they, Won't they? romance and fabulous scenery, food and drink.

There was a lot to like about this book. The side of me that likes to learn as I read enjoyed the details about champagne production and the French judicial system. I also loved the setting and the descriptions of food. I've visited France several times and the writing reminded me of places I'd been and I could well imagine the locations in my mind's eye.

There are a lot of characters, and suspects in particular, to keep track of but this was one of those books where I felt myself engaging with the story and trying to figure out whodunnit myself, unlike some books where I find myself feeling very passive about it, happy just to read and be told. The characters backgrounds were so different, from the German businessman hoping to buy Lea's company to the upper class French women. The little details about the mothers of the bride and groom seemed so precise and added greatly to my vision of these people.

Max is a character I warmed to from the start. She's got a hard to please mother, feels like she is living in her father's shadow and hasn't been lucky in love. However she is tough, has great instincts and is good at her job. Olivier, the apparently unflappable Gallic charmer is the perfect foil for Max and their potential romance provides another dimension to the story without taking away from the murder mystery element. My only criticism would be that I felt having learnt quite a lot about the two of them early on I didn't see a lot of character development while the investigation really ramped up. It felt like the characterisation was put to one side while the plot was moved along.

This is a stylish murder mystery with a hint of the sparkle of the Champagne that features so heavily. I'm hoping we'll see Max and Olivier again!

Format: Ebook, ARC, anticipated release 7th August 2012
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
My Rating: 4*

Friday, 27 July 2012

On Dark Shores 2: The Other Nereia by J A Clement

 I read and reviewed the first book in this series The Lady just over a year ago so it was good to find time to see where the story was heading, as it had ended at a climactic moment. This novella picks up where the first left off, but to avoid creating a spoiler for anyone who plans to read the first book I'll keep it vague.
On Dark Shores 2: The Other Nereia
The mood in Scarlock is changing; fear now mingles with hope. Moneylender Copeland is showing signs of becoming ever more unpredictable and he is now turning on even those closest to him. However Nereia and sister Mary have given the town a tiny spark of hope and feeling against him is gathering momentum. Unfortunately the people now also have to contend with an army amassing in the town, on the tail of The Mother of Shantari, guard and guide to her people. When Nereia is offered the chance to help banish the darkness by her other self she has to consider at what cost?

This instalment reveals more of the forces at play in and around Scarlock, and reintroduces lots of the characters from the first book. Blakey receives a lot of attention in this book, which I appreciated as he is a character who is being pulled in different directions and is dealing with a lot of internal conflict. The mood remains dark and oppressive, and the story is as gritty as the first book. It does contain violence and details the effects of Copeland's deadly drug Angel Feathers, which we find out more about the production of. 

I wish I hadn't taken so long to get around to reading this, as I found myself spending a bit of time scratching my head trying to remember some of the finer details. I'm very glad to hear that the author is planning to release the novellas in one book in the future, as I think it will improve the reader's experience. My previous review was critical of the point as which the first book ended and this would address that issue.

This author has a writing style that I enjoy, and in places her use of language and her descriptions really hit the mark. I'll definitely read the third book and  would just suggest that if the series appeals you try and read the separate parts close together to appreciate it more fully.

Format: Kindle, review copy
Publisher: Weasel Green Press
My Rating:3*

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Before the Daisies Grow by Micki Street

Before the Daisies GrowFrom - "Toss the bloomers, get a bikini wax and slip into a thong: life begins at sixty-ish. Dotty, Wilma and Nora are going on holiday to the island of Brazzina. Unfortunately for them, their charming host Lucas is a drug baron who plans to use his silver beauties as opium mules.Enter Major Milestone, a yummy gentleman who has Dotty's heart beating to the tango. Although he's going to Brazzina too, he keeps resisting her amorous advances, and it's giving her the vapours. But after the Major (does something dramatic), Dotty realizes she and her friends have just been kidnapped, and it's up to her to engineer their escape. Dotty enacts a hare-brained scheme only to discover two things. One: she may be hot, but she's not so hot at fool-proof plans, and two: the Major was on a covert mission to capture Lucas and destroy the island's opium plantations. With the mission near-scuppered and Milestone now suspicious the ladies are in cahoots with Lucas, Dotty must find some way to win his heart back. If she doesn't, the soft Brazzina surf it going to be the only thing kissing her toes anytime soon!"

This sounded like a fun comedy romp, and indeed the plot had plenty of scope for much hilarity as the three British OWLs (or Old White Ladies as they have been dubbed) get themselves into a difficult situation they are blissfully unaware of. I could suspend my disbelief and accept that, as savvy as they could be, they would buy into such a trip and be conned in the way they were. However the plot line wasn't enough to hold this book together for me, and I didn't find any humour in it which was a real shame. Before I write my review I usually pop onto Amazon or Goodreads to check the blurb (so as to avoid revealing anything that hasn't already been let slip) When I started to prepare this review I was surprised at the 4 and 5* reviews and think I must have read a different book.

My biggest criticism would be how inconsistent the characters are. One minute the three ladies come over as old fashioned upper class ladies, speaking very formally, and the next they are effing and blinding like good 'uns. Some of the language they use had me absolutely cringing and I'm not particularly precious about that sort of thing. Some of the language felt forced and I have never met an American, let alone a Brit who actually uses the word "Shucks" other than jokingly. I also couldn't understand, when the oldest of the trio is only meant to be 65 (coincidentally the same age as my mum) and they are interested in getting waxed and tanned, avoiding wrinkles and getting their hair and nails done, why they were described as fossils and talked about as if they were in their 80s and heading towards decrepit. They came over a bit Jekyll and Hyde, like each of them had two very different and unconnected sides. I couldn't find them remotely believable which completely killed off any chance of finding the humour in their story.

I also found the dialogue for an Asian character, swapping Rs and Ls around to give an idea of his accented speech, uncomfortable reading. Maybe done briefly to give the reader the idea might not have been so bad but the fact that whole passages of his speech were written that way felt mocking. Combine that with some odd turns of phrase and it wasn't an easy, flowing read.

I don't like giving a single star rating but this is one of those books I almost didn't finish. The central idea was great but the execution wasn't.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 1*

Friday, 20 July 2012

Eligere (Seranfyll, Book 2) by Christina Daley

EligereI read the first book in this series last year and was totally charmed by Seranfyll. As such I was looking forward to finding out where Domrey, Rain and co would be come Book 2. Eligere picks up the story a few years later. Liberated slaves Rain and Snow are missing Domrey who is travelling the world in the service of the King. Rain in particular is unimpressed with the demands placed on them by their tutor and she is missing Coal, who is away at university studying law. She is delighted when the unusual little family are reunited and Domrey allows them all to travel to Amyrania with him, while he performs a favour for the King. Snow on the other hand is less keen, having heard stories of the Storm Siders of Amyrania being cannibals. The trip throws up a number of challenges and even Rain gets more than she bargained for.

Eligere introduces a number of new characters, some of whom I am guessing will feature in further books in the series. There is even a little romance for members of the Seranfyll clan, although as a book mooted as suitable for ages 10+ it is all very subtle and cleanly done. As in the first book the author tackles important themes in an accessible way for younger readers. The ills of slavery are touched on again but the more dominant theme relates to the divisions between the two sides of Amyrania and the need to overcome the past for the common good.

While there were some lovely pieces of prose and I still enjoyed the quirky magic; Domrey's knitted spells and new character Phin's illustrations that come to life, this installment didn't hit the mark with me in the same way. Domrey didn't feature as strongly, which was a shame as I took a shine to him, and Rain came over as a bit of a petulant child. As the central character in this book my irritations with her distanced me. Also I found several typos and there was some really clumsy writing that seriously detracted from the stronger parts. As an example "...that allowed Domrey to take them out on real holiday kinds of things, like to the theatre, museums, the market, or as was their most favourite past time, on rides." 

Overall this book felt like it was written for the bottom end of the 10 yr + audience, where the first had a more universal appeal. I think unfortunately it falls short of the success that is Seranfyll and wonder where the next book in the series will go, as the door is left wide open for the tale to continue.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 2*

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Flathunter by Dan Trelfer

The FlathunterMoving is always going to be stressful but when you're in a big city looking for a flat share and facing interviews from a panel of current tenants who all have very different ideas about a new sharer it can only be more difficult. In this book the Flathunter nobly decides to undertake an experiment to come up with guaranteed techniques for successful flat share hunting. To start with it all goes well, but he becomes gradually more random and less focused as strange experiments and personal anecdotes begin to take over.

I had anticipated a non-fiction comedic guide and while it started off quite light and humorous the Flathunter's behaviour became distinctly odd. I found a bit of a disconnect between what I was expecting and what I was getting, which was more of a slightly dark novel. It wasn't so much a comedy guide to finding a new home as a descent into depression as the narrator sees his project veer off track and his personal life start to crumble. Although the narrator reveals a bit about his life and relationship I never felt like I got a proper feel for him and to me this was very much plot driven.

It was well written, there were definite moments that rang bells in relation to stories I've heard from friends, and it raised a few grins. All good stuff. However finding something different to my expectations affected my view of it and as the focus shifted the humour wasn't really the sort that had me laughing along. It was a bit too dark to be madcap, but not black enough to fall into that category. My rating is probably more a matter of taste than a reflection of the quality of the writing or the plot. 

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating:  2*

Friday, 6 July 2012

Guest Post - Why I Became a Crime Writer by John Barlow

Why I became a crime writer.

At the beginning of my writing career I was labelled a ‘literary’ writer. That was fine, and I tried to live up to it. About three years ago I had an idea for a cycle of stories based on the Grimm’s fairy tales, but modern, grown-up versions. Literary ones. I wrote several of these stories. In one of them a snowy-white Hollywood starlet gets poisoned on LSD at an orgy of seven midgets. I did it as an American noir, and I showed it to my agent. Do it as a full-length novel! she said.

The novel, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO JERRY PICCO?, was shown to half a dozen big publishers in New York. But there were no takers for my porno-noir about a drugged-up fifteen year-old virgin and her well-hung midget lover. Strange. The crime publisher Mulholland very nearly bought it, then shied away. The novel was quickly forgotten, and I moved on.

However, last year I brought the novel out as an ebook, using the pseudonym Joe Florez. I did it as a way of testing the emerging ebook market, and I quite enjoyed the process. At about the same time I made an unusual discovery: my uncle John had been an arms dealer. He was also suspected of stealing munitions from the British army, and when he boarded a flight home from Amsterdam in 1984, British police were waiting for him at Heathrow. It was too late; he was found dead on the plane, his throat cut.

There are all sorts of theories as to what Uncle John had been doing. Apparently he’d made a lot of trips to Libya, and there was also rumours that he was supplying para-military groups in Ireland. His widow claimed publically that he’d been in contact with an organisation (which she wouldn’t name) that wanted him to work for them under cover. She vowed to fight for the truth, but nothing ever came of it. John was quickly forgotten.

What struck me as curious, when I saw the press cuttings and learned something about the case, was that I’d never heard about it before. He was actually a half-uncle on my father’s side, but nobody had ever mentioned the nature of his death or the job he’d been doing. After getting used to the idea that he might have been involved in some pretty awful things, what amazed me is how family life went on regardless, presumably as it had done while he was flying off to Tripoli back when Gaddafi was at the height of his terrorist-supporting powers. Uncle John had two young daughters and lived in a pleasant suburb of Leeds. He had a normal life.

Hope RoadI decided to write a crime novel about this contradiction. HOPE ROAD is not about Uncle John himself, although it is set in Leeds. It’s about a criminal family, and specifically about a ‘non-criminal’ son in that family. I was interested to explore what it might be like to grow up with a career criminal for a father, yet to reject that background and ‘go straight’. That’s what my family must have been doing all those years, tactfully rejecting one of their own, not only the manner of his death, but also what he did.

As I developed my main character, John Ray, I began to think about structure. I wanted him to be an amateur sleuth, using his family’s connections to solve a crime. But I also wanted to bring out the tensions inherent in this situation, and to do this I decided to give him a girlfriend: a police detective. As the novel grew, it drew more and more on the dynamics of this relationship. The detective is called Denise Danson, and I reckon she might get her own plot in a future novel.

Finally, as I was writing the book, two more things happened. Firstly, HOPE ROAD involves a subplot revolving around fake money, and quite by chance I got the opportunity to meet a real money counterfeiter. I learned a lot of details about the ‘funny money’ trade from him, especially about what it’s like to ‘pass off’ counterfeit banknotes in large numbers. Initially it was nerve-wracking to meet a professional criminal. But then I thought back to my own family! Secondly, the West Yorkshire Police were kind enough to offer me access to Leeds CID. I was assigned a detective, and I consulted with him on matters of police procedure and other plot details. Since I was writing about the very same Special Crimes department in Leeds, I considered this a sign: I’d made the right decision to turn to crime.

You can buy HOPE ROAD from, or from various other vendors (see John’s website).