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Sunday 10 December 2023

‘Ghost of a Chance’ by Susan Hepburn

Published by Allison & Busby,
1st December 2005.
ISBN: 0-74908-383-2

Mike (despite the name, a woman) Brodie has a busy life. She runs a music shop, does voice-overs and plays the saxophone in a variety of bands ranging from 50’s tea-dance music to ultra-cool jazz to raunchy blues and soul. She also keeps an eye on her god-daughter Raffi and copes with her ebullient manager Paul who can never resist signing Mike up for ‘just one more gig’. So, when Mick’s friend Maggie invites her to Bewick Grange, a stately home just about to open to the public, where Maggie is General Manager, Mick jumps at the chance of restful respite.

Naturally, Mike’s hopes of peace and quiet are dashed. On her arrival at the Grange, she is ambushed by a group of armed men. They turn out to be a group of battle re-creationists calling themselves ‘The Companions of the Crooked Staff’.  The ambush arises from a misunderstanding: nonetheless, an inauspicious start to Mike’s stay. The owners, an American called Warren Myatt and his upper-class English wife Elynore, are manipulative and slightly creepy. There is an enigmatic gardener, Edward Fairfield, a leading light in the Companions; and an abrasive black-haired blue-eyed American, Jake, manager of the Grange’s conference Centre, who intervened when Mick was ambushed and got a flea in his ear for his pains. The house is old with one known priest’s hole and rumours of another. And the Companions do seem to be particularly omnipresent.

Then the body of an elderly man is found floating in an ornamental pool at the Grange – apparently an accident – but is it? And then in Cheltenham where Raffi is a student there is another death, this time in a house fire, possibly arson: Raffi’s friend Tim, member of a band called Beanie and the Boys. Is this death as unrelated to the earlier death as at first seems? And is it really Tim who is dead? Mike has reason to think not. But then her house is burgled and trashed – why?

There is a serious undertone to the book: Mike’s husband Duncan died 14 years before and from time-to-time events bring back sad memories. But overall the tone is light-hearted and the story rattles along at speed rather like the Rock Island Line, driven by crackling dialogue and a galaxy of characters: in addition to Mike, Maggie, Jake, Edward, Raffi, Warren and Elynore, there is a vicar called Alison, a chef/guitarist known as Gaffer, a host of (mostly) drunken Irishmen in Cheltenham for the Gold Cup, and many, many others.

Like Mike Susan does voice-overs and plays the saxophone, and her obvious knowledge and experience enrich the story. I am not sure if all the gigs she describes are strictly relevant to the plot: but they are all entertaining and illuminate the world in which Mike lives and works.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Susan Hepburn has written two earlier books, Missing and Voices in the Dark.



Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015.

Saturday 9 December 2023

‘The Murder Bird’ by Joanna Hines

Published by Simon & Schuster,
6 March 2006.
ISBN: 978-0-7432-4800-6 (HB)

There seemed no reason why Kirsten Waller, a famous poet, should have ended her own life, but that is the verdict of the Cornish Coroner. Kirsten had been living alone in a cottage in Cornwall and was found dead in her bath by Davy her first husband.  But her daughter Sam refuses to accept the verdict particularly as she knew that her mother was currently working on a poem -  The Murder Bird, which strangely cannot be found.  Sam is convinced that her mother’s papers will yield an explanation for her death, but her mother’s journal is also missing. Convinced that her stepfather Ralph has the papers, Sam effects an unorthodox method of obtaining them.

Ralph Howes a highly successful barrister, is currently preparing the defence for Grace Hobden the mother of three children who calmly stabbed her husband to death while he was sleeping.  The complex structure of a defence for Grace Hobden is cleverly constructed, and forms a background to the story, as Sam determines to prove that her mother was murdered and who by.

A compelling psychological book, that will have you gripped, as the family secrets are slowly and skilfully revealed as Sam searches for the truth of her mother’s death. 
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Joanna Hines grew up in London and attended the LSE and Oxford.  She has a trilogy set in mid-17th century Cornwall beginning with The Cornish Girl and ten suspense novels from Dora‘s Room (1993) through to The Murder Bird.  Her book Improvising Carla was televised by Granada, as Carla, in 2006. Joanna lived for many years in Cornwall but has now returned to London, and is now writing non-fiction under her maiden name, Joanna Hodgkin . She is a counsellor for Relate. She has two grown-up children and a stepdaughter.

Visit Joanna's website at

Interview with Greg Wands and Elizabeth Keenana

 by Jill Amadio

Greg Wands and Elizabeth Keenana

Co-authors, such as the several collaborators who write with bestselling James Patterson,
are freely acknowledged by the thriller writer, and he gives them public credit for their work.
Is there also an increasing trend for mystery writers to team up?
One successful couple, Greg Wands and Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Keenan,
are finding their books more and more popular,
and sell in twelve languages.
Here they explain how their writing process works:

 Jill: Where/when did you meet? Which state do you live in?
Liz and I met in the autumn of 1996, when we were both freshmen studying Theatre Arts at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. We never lived more than a mile from one another until Liz moved to rural Pennsylvania recently.

Jill:     What are your writing backgrounds? Were you published before collaborating?
Liz and I both wrote short fiction separately for many years, and I tried my hand at screenwriting. While we were early readers and supporters of each other’s work, it wasn’t until our debut, The Woman Inside, in 2019 that either of us became published authors, and it was a real thrill to be able to do it together!

Jill:     How did you decide to collaborate and why crime?
We’d been discussing the idea of collaborating on a project together in the abstract for many years when we both suffered separate tragedies: my father passing away from cancer and Liz having a long-term relationship unravel in heartbreaking fashion. While supporting each other through the grief and trauma, we cooked up the seed of the idea that became our debut novel. A crime story seemed like the proper genre, as we were interested in exploring the more clandestine aspects of the human condition and the capacity people have for secrecy and

Jill:     Do you categorize your books as mysteries, thrillers or preferably as novels, and why?
We categorize our books as psychological thrillers, but love to explore different subgenres from project to project, from domestic suspense to trust-no-one to locked-room mystery to our current project, which involves a con story.

Jill:     What system do you use to organize and collaborate?
We write in Google Docs, which allows both of us to work on the manuscript simultaneously. As a duo, this helps when we’re in the revision or copy edit phases and often need to tackle separate plot points in a
complementary fashion.

 Jill:     Which strengths and weaknesses do you each bring to the writing?
Liz is wonderful at scene setting, character development, and creating a visceral experience for the reader through the use of a specific image, textural description, or the like. And she’s marvelous with a turn of phrase! I enjoy writing dialogue, and would like to think I’m good at creating atmosphere. I think we’re also both skilled at being able to nudge the other in the right direction when one of us starts to lose the thread of the plot or makes a narrative decision that feels untrue to a character.

Jill:     How have you changed or adjusted your system as you wrote more books?
We fell into our routine fairly organically, by volleying chapters back and forth with only a loose framework in place. This seemed to give the work an improvisatory energy that kept each of us–and by extension, the reader–on their toes. Thankfully, we’ve been able to keep our formula reasonably intact, which works well for us. With a couple of the books, the publisher has requested a more comprehensive breakdown, but we still find ways to surprise and confound one another on the page, to our mutual delight.

Jill:     Which obstacles/pitfalls/challenges did you face in the writing of the books? Arguments? Agreements?
It can be a bit of a challenge having two separate brains tackling one story, mostly from a logistical point of view: keeping timelines straight, having slightly different ideas behind character motivations, and trying to foresee where your writing partner might take the plot of the book. But the uncertainty can also be thrilling, and lend to the feeling of discovery and surprise that makes for an engaging writing experience.

Jill:     Do you have criminal/police/forensics experience?
Neither Liz nor myself have first-hand criminal, police or forensic experience, though we know some people involved in law enforcement who have been valuable sources of information. We also really enjoy diving into the research process for whatever book we’re working on at the time.

Jill:     Do you think having two writers can shorten the length it takes to write a book?
Because we write in a back-and-forth style, with one author penning a chapter and then kicking it over to the other, it takes about the same amount of time to finish a draft as it would a solo writer. The advantage we have is that our method allows for extra time in between chapters to clean up the text and to find places where we may have slipped into some inconsistency or other in the plotting of the story.   

Jill:     Your separate backgrounds appear tailor-made for a collaboration. Have your experiences in publishing and screenwriting helped you write, publish, and market your books?
Our respective backgrounds have given us several useful tools. Our experiences in the film and publishing ndustries have informed our understanding of effective storytelling, audience, and the publishing process. For marketing, our past experience has helped us to succinctly pitch our books and connect with influencers and other writers in and out of our genre, as well as our understanding of how much authors have to be entrepreneurial when it comes to marketing their books.

Jill:   Who does the research?
Since we typically split up the characters in writing our novels, we research our designated parts and their history, professions, passions, etc. For the broader story elements like forensic and legal procedures, we also split research and share our findings, which often spur new story elements in our plotting. We pick themes and story elements we are interested in learning more about, knowing we’ll spend six months to a year immersing ourselves in these topics.

Jill:  What is your publishing history?
Our first novel, The Woman Inside came out in January (2019), and the following year, In Case of Emergency was published (2020), and The Rule of Three was released in 2022. We have a fourth novel
publishing in 2024. Our books are all published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House

Jill:  Do you appear jointly at signings? Awards? Podcasts/social media?
When we can, we appear jointly. I could not attend any signing in 2022 when I was pregnant with my son and on bed rest, but Greg represented both of us, and we look forward to doing events together for our orthcoming novel next year. Thanks to Zoom and IG Live, we’ve been able to do podcast and social media interviews jointly from our separate locations, though we prefer to be in the same room when we can. 

Jill: Are either of you writing other books, fiction or non-fiction, that are non-collaborative?
Yes! We are both working on novels separately in between our collaborative projects. They are in various degrees of completion; Greg is further along than I am! 

Jill:  Your books are bestsellers; how many languages are they published in? Do you sell well in the UK?
Our books are published in twelve languages. We haven’t sold as well in the UK as in Poland or Brazil, for example, but we hope our readership grows there. Having global readers of any amount is very gratifying. 

Jill:  Which of your books did you have the most enjoyment writing?
Each of our novels has brought immense joy in the writing process in different ways. If I had to pick one, I think The Woman Inside was the most exhilarating to write since it was the first, the most personally motivated, and we were doing something completely new.  

Jill:  Your most effective marketing strategy?
This is a hard one since effective marketing is so elusive. However, the approach with the most ‘legs’ is personal recommendations from fellow thriller writers and bookstagrammers of our books when they are released. The trust of readers that these well-read influencers and writers have fostered is priceless and effective in spreading the word about our work, and we are eternally grateful to the people who support us in that way. We aim to do the same with all of the incredible books that are published each month!

Jill: Have you any advice for budding collaborators?
Like any healthy relationship, creative collaborators should focus on the foundation of the partnership as much (if not more) than the creative output. Communication, trust, and encouragement are vital to keeping
momentum when things get creatively challenging. Making the work an extension of the friendship is the core of our collaboration; we write for the amusement and shock of the other, which keeps us motivated. Laughter is
essential, too.

Jill:     What’s next?
We have a fourth novel coming in 2024, being published by Dutton. This one is a little departure for us but still features a cast of questionably motivated characters and centers around con-artistry and family
dysfunction. And a murder, naturally.

Jill Amadio hails from Cornwall, U.K, like the character in her crime series, Jill was a reporter in Spain, Colombia, Thailand, and the U.S. She is a true crime author, ghosted a thriller, writes a column for Mystery People ezine, and freelances for My Cornwall magazine.
She lives in Connecticut USA. 
Her most recent book is
In Terror's Deadly Clasp,
published 16 July 2021.