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*