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Monday 29 April 2013

‘Another Small Kingdon’ by James Green

Published by Accent press,
23 August 2012.
978 190 8262 899

The USA, 1802. In Europe the Napoleonic wars are raging with Britain and France pitted against each othe: not the concern of the fledgling democracy with its capital Washington only recently founded. Yet European politics are extending their tentacles across the Atlantic to the new state which wishes to expand across the Mississippi and into the Louisiana Territories, nominally still Spanish but acquired by the French under a secret treaty two years previously. What do the French want in return?  Could it be that they wish to install Cardinal Henry Newman, last of the Stuart line and brother to Bonnie Prince Charlie, as a puppet king in the USA who will lead that country into the European wars on the side of the French?

The key to the conspiracy is in New Orleans and it is there that Lawyer Macleod arrives. Although Macleod is a Bostonian, his father was a Highland Jacobite who had lost everything after the ‘45 Rising and had sought refuge in the States. Macleod has not forgiven the British for the wrongs done to his family and as a Catholic and a fluent French speaker would be an ideal choice to find out what exactly the French are up to in New Orleans. Except that Macleod does not wish to go and being of a stubborn nature refuses to do so. So the shadowy and secretive Office of Internal and International Information (precursor of the CIA) in the person of the mysterious and sinister Cedric Bentley sets Macleod up so that he has no choice but to go. In New Orleans he meets the beautiful Marie de Valois and through her learns the truth about the conspiracy. Meanwhile the British have also sent as agent to New Orleans the seductive Madame de Metz (in reality Molly O’Hara). Before long Macleod and Marie find they are engaged in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in which no-one can be sure who is friend and who is foe.

Another Small Kingdom has a highly complex and convoluted plot which provides a penetrating insight into the history of the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Other books by the same author (2013, 2014): A Union Not Blessed, The Eagle Turns, Never an Empire, Winston’s Witch.

James Green was educated by the Vincentian Fathers at Bishop Ullathorne Gammar School , Coventry. He left school at sixteen and, after working as coal-miner, farm-worker, motor-cycle courier and building labourer, he went to St. Mary's College, Twickenham and qualified as a teacher. During his teaching career Jim acquired, by part-time study, an Open University B.A. and a research M.A. in Education. He studied, again part-time and for three years, for a Ph.D. in Education at Leicester University but, in 1983, the school where he was head teacher was completely destroyed by an arson attack and the final write-up of the research for the Doctorate was postponed, as it turned out, indefinitely. In 1997 Jim left teaching to become a full-time writer and published magazine articles and books on travel. He then began writing the first of what was to become the Jimmy Costello series, Bad Catholics, which in 2009 was short-listed for a CWA Dagger. Over the years Jim has been the author of academic texts and reference works but now concentrates on adult novels and is currently writing the Freedom to Espionage series which chronicles through fiction, but based on actual historical events and characters, the rise of the American Intelligence Service culminating in the establishment in 1947 of the CIA. The first in the five-book series, Another Small Kingdom, was published by Accent Press in August 2012 and the second, A Union Not Blessed, will be published in April 2013. Jim has also been invited to become one of the Traverse 50, an international group of writers new to the theatre, invited to work with the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh for one year as part of the celebration the theatre's 50th birthday.

Saturday 27 April 2013

‘Agent Dmitri’ by Emil Draiter

Published by Duckworth,
25 October 2012.

ISBN 978 0 7156 4377 8

This is the true story of the handsome, suave master spy Dmitri Bystrolyotov who spied for the Soviet Union in the inter-war years. Born in 1901, his mother was of aristocratic descent but with feminist views which led her to have an illegitimate child as a gesture against the rigidly conformist society of the time in which class distinctions were legally enforceable. His father was a member of the Tolstoy family but Dmitri never knew him and after his early childhood saw little of  his mother, the Tolstoy family arranging for him to live with a foster family and for his education. But the upheavals caused by World War I and even more the 1917 Bolshevik revolution changes his life from one of privilege to one of extreme poverty while his experiences influence his political views, and in order to escape the chaos caused by the conflict between the White and Red Armies he escapes to Turkey where he is at first utterly destitute. His circumstances improve slightly and when he makes his way to Prague he eventually comes to the attention of the OGPU (the then name for the Soviet secret police) who recruit him as a spy. His life changes absolutely; he becomes not just a spy but a master spy, one of the most successful in Europe, stealing military secrets from Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Britain, often employing seduction of embassy staff. But the strains of his lifestyle, which could involve adopting several identities in one day, and a series of catastrophic personal relationships, begin to affect his already frail personality. He returns to Moscow - a mistake since Stalin’s terrible show trials were just beginning. Like so many others who dedicated their lives to their political and patriotic ideals he is arrested on false charges, tortured, and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment in the Gulag. Unusually he survives but the account of those years, derived from a record he kept at the time, is harrowing in the extreme. Even after his eventual release, life is difficult but with the help of his devoted wife, whom he met in the Gulag, he  achieves a measure of happiness in his old age until his death in 1975.

The author of this book is about the only person who could have written it. Emil Draitser, himself Russian, met Dmitri once when the latter was an old man. Due to the still repressive nature of the Soviet regime, he did not tackle his subject until he himself had left the USSR and was well established in the United States. By this time, Russia was presenting in various books and films a sanitised version of Dmitri as being entirely motivated by socialist patriotism, ignoring the more questionable aspects of his activities and passing over his maltreatment by the government he had served so devotedly and his eventual disillusionment with not only Stalin but Lenin and the vast edifice of state repression under which so many people had suffered. With the aid of the vast amount of materials unearthed from various archives, Draitser has told a compelling story of a brave, complex, sensitive and flawed man. A must for all those interested in twentieth century history.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Emil Draiter was born in Odessa, Ukraine, Emil Draitser has published both fiction and nonfiction since 1964. His work appeared in leading Soviet journals (Youth, Literary Gazette, and Crocodile) under his pen name "Emil Abramov." He began his writing career as a freelancer contributing satirical articles for Soviet newspapers and magazines. Eventually, he was blacklisted for criticizing an important official, prompting him to leave for the United States. He immigrated to Los Angeles, where he earned a Ph.D. in Russian literature from UCLA. In 1986, he took a job at Hunter College in New York City, where he continues to teach. Besides twelve books of artistic and scholarly prose, Emil Draitser's essays and short stories have been published in the Los Angeles Times, Partisan Review, North American Review, Prism International, and many other American and Canadian periodicals. His fiction has also appeared in Russian, Polish, and Israeli journals.

Friday 26 April 2013

‘Six Years’ by Harlan Coben

Published by Orion,
25th April 2013. 
ISBN: 978-1-4091-4457-1

Six Years is a thriller, a love story and a page-turner with plenty of action. Most of Coben’s stand-alone novels use a mystery in the main protagonists past, unresolved or a misunderstanding of events. 

This book is told in the first person. Jake Fisher meets Natalie Avery at a remote artists retreat, they fall in love and spend three months together. Jake is devastated when Natalie ends the relationship and within days marries another man. Natalie makes Jake promise leave her and her new husband alone and never contact them again, heartbroken he agrees.

Six years later Jake is a college professor. He has never recovered from the loss his one and only love but keeps his promise not to try and contact Natalie again. But when he reads that her husband has died, Jake attends the funeral in the hope of meeting Natalie again. He is stunned to see that the widow is not Natalie and has 2 teenage children. The mystery begins. Jake will not give up, he slowly uncovers  a web of lies and deceit. He is an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary events. It turns out that everything he thought he knew was wrong or twisted in a complex plot that keeps you reading right up to the end.
I don’t want to say too much and ruin the book, but all the plot points are there for you to follow. Read and enjoy.
Reviewer: Sue Lord
Earlier books in the Myron Bolitar series in order: Deal Breaker, Drop Shot, Fade Away, Back Spin, One False Move, The Final Detail, Darkest Fear, Promise Me, Long Lost

Harlan Coben was the first ever author to win all three major crime awards in the US. He is now global bestseller with his mix of powerful stand-alone thrillers and Myron Bolitar crime novels. He has appeared in the bestseller lists of The Times, the New York Times, Le Monde, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.

Sue Lord originally studied Fine Art and Art History, her MA is in Creative Writing. She now, revues, teaches, mentors and script doctors. She lives in central London and Cornwall. Her favourite pastime is gardening.

Thursday 25 April 2013

‘Semper Fidelis’ by Ruth Downie

Published by Bloomsbury USA in hardback,
Jan 2013.
ISBN: 978 1 60819 709 5
(UK publication date to be announced)

A new Ruso novel by Ruth Downie is a long-awaited treat, albeit one available for UK readers only from on-line booksellers, at least for the time being.
For an established fan of the series, Semper Fidelis is up there with the best of them; for a newcomer, possibly seeking to supplement Lindsey Davis’s visits to ancient Rome in the company of Falco, it stands sufficiently alone to be enjoyed for itself, and also whets the appetite for the previous four.
For the benefit of those newcomers: Gaius Petreius Ruso is a doctor with the Roman army of occupation in Britannia, during the second century AD, some time after Julius Caesar came to, saw and conquered what later became the British Isles. In the previous four episodes in the series, having accidentally, and somewhat reluctantly, reinvented himself as an investigator, he variously abandoned his medical career, visited several parts of Britannia, left the army, and took a trip home to Gaul to sort out his rather demanding family. He also acquired a British slave, Darlughdacha of the Corionotate (Tilla for short), a woman with a mind of her own, who became his housekeeper and later his wife.
This time around, he is back in the army, has returned to Britannia, and is once again practising medicine. Carrying out a review of the medical facilities at the fort at Eboracum, he learns that the British recruits to the Twentieth Legion think they are cursed, following a series of deaths and serious injuries in dubious circumstances. He makes some alarming discoveries, which culminate in the discovery of a body.
After that it’s downhill all the way for poor old Ruso. Downie charts his and Tilla’s adventures with her customary deft wit and a lot of humour. She has a nimble hand with her characters, both major and minor. Ruso himself is a satisfying mix of self-assurance in the hospital ward and total bafflement when faced with a mystery to solve. Tilla is capable and feisty, but her determination to help her husband out of trouble invariably backfires.
A couple more familiar faces pop up: Valens, Ruso’s charming, ambitious friend and Metellus the devious security chief both have a part to play. And then there’s Hadrian, the man-of-the-people emperor, and Sabina his spoilt wife; and a whole cast of officers and soldiers and their women, each very much an individual.
It all makes for a rich tapestry, with a huge amount of historical research woven in with such a light hand that you hardly notice you’re being educated as well as entertained. The secret of good historical fiction is not necessarily to ensure every detail is absolutely accurate – an impossible task anyway – but to persuade the reader that this is how it could have happened. I have no idea whether the Emperor Hadrian’s ship was almost wrecked and forced to come ashore at somewhere that equates to Hull, or whether his wife was a gullible, selfish snob, but I’m quite happy to suspend disbelief of both these things in the context of Downie’s narrative. And she certainly includes enough sound common sense to convince me that she knows what she’s talking about: details like the small boys who are the inevitable consequence of silly girls hanging around the garrison, for instance. 
Whether or not you’re a fan of historical fiction, Ruth Downie offers a lot to enjoy in this latest Ruso adventure. Me, I can hardly wait for the next one.
Reviewer Lynne Patrick

Ruth Downie left university with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She is still working on it. In the meantime she is also the New York Times bestselling author of a mystery series featuring Roman doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso. This is her fifth book. The four currently available are: Medicus (published as Medicus/Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls in the UK and Australia)Terra Incognita (Ruso and the Demented Doctor) Persona non Grata (Ruso and the Root of All Evils) Caveat Emptor (Ruso and the River of Darkness)
Ruth is not the RS Downie who writes real medical textbooks. Absolutely none of the medical advice in the Ruso books should be followed. Roman and Greek doctors were very wise about many things but they were also known to prescribe donkey dung and boiled cockroaches.
Find out more at

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning.
She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

‘Payback Time’ by Geraint Anderson

Published by Headline,
14 February 2013.
978 0 7553 8177 7(pb)
Six Cambridge graduates are drawn to the City of London and the world of finance. Wild and beautiful Bridget and Cityboy Steve Jones, who tells most of the story, are brokers at the German bank Geldlust, where dumpy Rachel also once worked but who now, after marriage and children resulted in her losing her job, is working for the Financial Services Authority (which polices the banks), a distinct comedown. John, possibly autistic/Aspergers, is a not very successful fund manager with a sideline in drug dealing while Colum is an extraordinarily successful hedge fund manager but is also a ‘chubby, disease-ridden degenerate … who sought out excess in everything especially … drugs, money and sex.’ Even the idealistic anti-capitalistic Fergus, Bridget’s lover,  is working as a financial journalist albeit for The Guardian. Then Bridget is sacked and during the following drunken, drug-soaked weekend falls to her death from the balcony of her penthouse flat. Her friends are devastated by the tragedy and, blaming her death on Geldlust, hatch a plan to bring Geldlust down and enrich themselves at the same time. Set ablaze by adrenalin and fuelled by drink, drugs, debauchery, dishonesty and dysfunctional personalities, they proceed to do just that. But it also appears that Bridget was not alone during that weekend; someone was with her, but who, and was that person responsible for her death?

This is a rollicking good read, great fun and excellently written, despite the deplorable lifestyle not just of the main characters but just about everyone else. But it is also a cautionary tale. The complete amorality of the City is like a giant black hole, sucking in and then destroying everyone who becomes involved. Beware one thing, however: all the characters are phenomenally foul-mouthed: if you don’t like that sort of thing . . . you have been warned!
Reviewer: Radmila May
Other books by Geraint Anderson: Cityboy, Just Business.

Geraint Anderson, 38, son of Labour peer Baron Anderson of Swansea, was the investment banker who in 2008 broke the City’s “code of silence” and exposed dodgy dealings in the world of banking, telling all in his book Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile using his pseudonym Cityboy

Tuesday 23 April 2013

‘Everyone Lies’ by A D Garrett

Published by C&R Crime,
20th June 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-78033-979-5

The damaged cop with demons to battle and a difficult personal life is a recurring theme in crime fiction, and one which finds its way into this first outing for A D Garrett. 

Kate Simms is a newly promoted DCI with a past which sidelined her for several years and has left her with a lot to prove to her senior officers now she’s back in the mainstream. Nick Fennimore is a consulting forensic pathologist who carries ghosts from his own past around with him. And he and Simms have history.

Kate is tasked to draw a line under a series of drug-related deaths regarded as small-time by the police hierarchy; with Nick’s clandestine help she finds a linking factor. Then evidence starts to fall into her lap a little too easily, and she begins to wonder if there’s more going on than meets the eye.
There is, of course, and A D Garrett weaves a cast of intriguing bad guys, a raft of forensic detail and a background of police politics into a gripping rollercoaster of a tale which ranks among the best police procedurals I’ve read in years.

Then again, from a crime writer with nine highly regarded novels under her belt, or a high-profile professor of forensics who has worked on cases such as Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, Millie Dowler’s murder and the Soham killings, you’d expect no less. A D Garrett is both of these; the name is a pseudonym for the writing partnership of Margaret Murphy and Professor Dave Barclay.

Structurally the plot is well-nigh perfect. A couple of times I thought I’d caught them attempting something which doesn’t work in fiction, only to find, a chapter or two later, that I’d been sold a skilful dummy. At one point, a few dozen pages from the end, I laid the book down thinking, there, they’ve hit rock bottom, now the only way is up – and next time I picked it up the story swooped down into an even deeper pit.

There’s a lot of forensic detail, rightly so, since the narrative relies heavily on it, and once in a while it gets pretty technical. But just when Fennimore gets a little too carried away by science-speak and the lay mind threatens to glaze over, Simms cuts to the chase and it’s all summed up in a few concise and totally comprehensible words.

Simms and Fennimore don’t work in isolation, of course; a whole cast of other characters, major and minor, move through the action, almost none of them wholly good or bad whichever side they’re on – and every single one evinces that sense that they go on living when they walk off the page. The locations, too, from police HQ to squalid crime scenes via massage parlour, hotel room and Simms’s home, have the ring of truth; and Greater Manchester in the sleet really is as dismal and comfortless as it’s portrayed; been there, done that!

If this book isn’t meant as the first of a series, both publisher and author should consider it seriously. When I finished it I wanted more. The story is wrapped up, the bad are caught and the good rewarded, but tantalizing loose threads are left dangling, questions left unanswered about both major and minor characters, laying down oodles of potential for the future.
Let’s hope Murphy and Barclay stay friends.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
A D Garrett is the pseudonym for Margaret Murphy and Professor Dave Barclay’s writing collaboration.

 Margaret Murphy has written nine psychological thrillers – both stand-alone and police series. Her work has been published in the UK and the USA, and in translation across Europe, receiving accolades from broadsheets and tabloid newspapers alike, as well as starred reviews from Publishers’ Weekly and Booklist in the USA.  Her novels have been shortlisted for the First Blood critics’ award for crime fiction, and the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Dagger in the Library; she was the joint winner of the 2012 CWA Short Story Dagger. Margaret is founder of Murder Squad, a touring group of crime writers, and in 2009-10 she was Chair of the CWA. She was RLF Writing Fellow in Liverpool and Chester from 2008-2011, and has tutored creative writing at Masters level, as well as presenting talks and workshops in creative writing for library groups and literature festivals. She has been a countryside ranger, science teacher and dyslexia specialist, and her lifelong passion for science is reflected in her painstaking research for her novels. Everyone Lies is her first collaborative work with forensic scientist Prof. Dave Barclay, under the pseudonym A.D. Garrett.
Professor Dave Barclay is a world renowned forensics expert and Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. Professor Barclay has worked on some of Britain's highest profile murder cases. He is also a former head of physical evidence for the UK National Crime and Operations Faculty, where he was involved in reviewing more than 200 murder investigations, cold case reviews and inquiries into alleged miscarriages of justice, including the Bloody Sunday inquiry, the Omagh bombing, the World's End murders in Edinburgh, and the Milly Dowler and Soham murders. His extensive experience also led him into becoming an adviser for the BBC television series 'Waking the Dead' and more recently, the Channel Four documentary, Dispatches, invited Prof Barclay to Praia da Luz, Portugal to review the Portuguese police investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning.
She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

Monday 22 April 2013

‘The Chalice’ by Nancy Bilyeau

Published Orion,
28th Feb 2013.
ISBN. 978 1 409 1 3309 4 (hardback)
978 1 409 1 3310 0 (trade paperback).
978 1 409 1 3311 7 (ebook)

Joanna Stafford, past trainee nun and current aspiring tapestry entrepreneur is caught up in a chain of events, which puts her in danger of losing her head. 

It is the time of Henry VIII.  Jane Seymour is dead and the king is looking for a forth wife, whilst continuing his dissolution of the monestaries and persecutions of anyone who he feels may threaten his hold on the crown of England.  Joanna's uncle, the Duke of Buckingham, has already fallen under the axe of Henry's insecurity and so any of her family is potentially in danger.  Joanna, having already tasted imprisonment in the Tower, does not help her plight by being a fervent opponent of Henry's religious policies and getting caught up in several dubious plots.

As a young girl Joanna was taken to a nun who had visions and gave her the first part of a prophecy which indicates that she may be instrumental in overturning Henry's reign of persecution.  The story explores her journey to get the other two parts of the vision and find some meaning from it.  Along the way she finds love, friendship, trouble and sadness as well as cementing her faith.  She also gets a wealthy patron for her tapestries.

This is an amazing book which I thoroughly enjoyed, and it got me looking up historical facts from 1538 when it was set.  All the characters including the rather devious Bishop of Winchester are well drawn and fleshed out throughout the narrative and the reader is dragged through Joanna's emotional highs and lows while she explores how she is going to survive her prophecies and restore England to what she believes is the the true faith.

A brilliant read, and certainly one which will get me looking out for future exploits of Joanna Staffford and any other works from Nancy Bilyeau.
Reviewer: Amanda Brown
Nancy Bilyeau Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay "Zenobia" placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and "Loving Marys" reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. The Crown is her first novel.
Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy's ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough's founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.
Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

‘Never Saw it Coming’ by Linwood Barclay

Published by Orion,
February 2013.

ISBN: 978-1409141419

This is a compelling book in which the main character, Keisha Ceylon, is a con artist who  plays psychic for people looking for missing family members.  Whilst this may not seem a very sympathetic character to feel empathy with, you start to like Keisha as she gets unwittingly dragged into a case which is more disturbing than the missing persons she normally pretends to "feel".

Trying to find the wife of a seemingly upset husband turns into a game of survival, as she starts to find that there is more to the situation than a simple missing persons case.  What starts off as a possibility to help her pay the rent and support her lazy boyfriend becomes a nightmare involving murder, death, cover up and past clients as well as inflaming poor relations with the local police.

As ever with Linwood Barclay's writing this is a nicely paced well crafted story which does not give the reader obvious pointers to how the storyline will move forward from one chapter to the next.  From the start the narrative keeps you guessing, who is murderer, what is going to happen next, how will she get out of that?  Whilst you start off not really convinced that you should be on the side of the con artist, Keisha, by the end you are hoping that she will get through on top. Unfortunately as she is not truly psychic she doesn't know how it ends either!

A really interesting and compelling read.


Reviewer: Amanda Brown

Linwood Barclay was born in Connecticut.  He started his journalism career in 1977 at the Peterborough Examiner, moved on to a small Oakville paper in 1979, and then to the Toronto Star in 1981 where he was, successively, assistant city editor, news editor, chief copy editor and Life section editor. He lives in Toronto with  his wife, Neetha and two children.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

‘The Tsunami Countdown’ by Boyd Morrison

Published by Sphere
15th November 2012. 

ISBN: 978-0-7515-4715-3

I could simply have written a one word review for this book: BRILLIANT!!! 
But that wouldn’t really be enough.  Over the years,  I’ve read a very large number of thrillers, and enjoyed nearly all of them.  But very very rarely have I’ve been as absolutely gripped as I was with this novel  ... to the point of hardly daring to turn the page for fear of the next ratcheting up of the tension, the next terrifying episode which is going to thwart hero Kai Tanaka in his desperate bid  to save not just his family but the lives of a million or more people on the island of Hawaii. 

A plane inexplicably explodes and nose-dives into the Pacific ocean.   Why?  I don’t want to dilute any of the thrilling story by saying why this has happened.  Suffice it to say that it is linked to a seismic disturbance whic h triggers the most massive catastrophe.  Tsunami waves of over three hundred feet threaten Honolulu and everyone anywhere near.  This is not your ordinary tusanami, either, this is a mega-tsunami, so huge that it is almost unimaginable.  How can anyone survive the impact when it hits?

Morrison has clearly done a huge amount of research to produce this truly breathtaking  thriller.   Far-fetched?  The author’s completely believable hypothesis is what makes it all so completely, terrifyingly gripping.

Nor do I want to preview what the results are.  I can only  say that this is the fastest-paced, most heart-thumping thriller I’ve ever read.  By the time I'd reached the end, my nerves had been stretched almost beyond breaking point.  Even strong drink couldn't calm me down.
Reviewer: Susan Moody

Boyd Morrison. After earning a BS in mechanical engineering from Rice University, Boyd worked for NASA and tested Xbox gamers for  Microdsoft.  As a professional actor, he has appeared in commercials and films and in stage plays such as Noises Off, Barefoot in the Park, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
Currently he is working on his next Tyler Locke book.

Susan Moody was born in Oxford is the principal nom de plume  of Susan Elizabeth Donaldson, née Horwood, a British novelist best known for her suspense novels. She is a former Chairman of the Crime Writer's Association, served as World President of the International Association of Crime Writers, and was elected to the prestigious Detection Club. Susan Moody has given numerous courses on writing crime fiction and continues to teach creative writing in England, France, Australia, the USA and Denmark.  In addition to her many stand alone books, Susan has written two series, on featuring PI Penny Wanawake (seven books) and a series of six books featuring bridge player Cassie Swan.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Quentin Bates

Leigh Russell in Conversation with Quentin Bates
           who is a writer and journalist.
His first crime novel was published in 2011 as
Frozen Out in the UK, Frozen Assets in the US. It is set in present-day Iceland in the months leading up to the collapse of the banks. 2012 saw the publication of the second novel in the series.  Cold Comfort is set in an Iceland coming to terms with the recession.
The latest book is
Chilled to the Bone,
set in post-recession Iceland and the depths of winter.
Q   You mention somewhere that you have always been a big reader. Is reading as necessary to you now as it was before you started writing?
            A   Definitely, probably even more so. There’s less time for reading these days, so I’m probably more selective than I used to be and rarely embark on a book unless I’m fairly sure it’s going to be a good one. I’m also reading a little more widely these days and I’ve found that the Kindle my daughter gave me has helped discover all sorts of things that I’d probably not otherwise have found.

            Q   You say on your blog that you ‘have always seen fiction as a mug’s game.’ Do you stand by that opinion now that you are a successful fiction writer, and, if so, why have you chosen to write fiction?
            A   I don’t see myself as a successful fiction writer. I’m still a beginner.
I wanted to see if I could do it. I had written some non-fiction stuff before and have a day job as a journalist (no, nothing even remotely glamorous or sensational), and saw fiction as a challenge, and I like a challenge. I’m still not sure if it’s a mug’s game. To be quite brutal about it, the odds against getting published to start with are steep, and the odds against staying published for a mid-list writer aren’t much better. On the other hand, dreaming up murder and intrigue is a great way to spend your days.

            Q   You wrote about your first novel, ‘Frozen Out’ that ‘there was just too much material not to do it.’  Do you write for enjoyment, or do you somehow feel driven to do it?
            A   If I didn’t get a buzz from writing, I wouldn’t do it, so the prime mover is definitely my own enjoyment. I think I’d been leading up to it for years, almost unconsciously collecting ideas, scenes and characters. Although I was already deep in Frozen Out at the time, it was the Crash in 2008 that crystallised everything as the lunacy of what had been going on just spilled out.
Writing fiction was also a release. I used to work for an editor with an incredibly rigid style. Everything in the magazine had to look the same and any kind of creative flair was firmly discouraged. So Frozen Out was partly born of that frustration of having to write that turgid, formulaic stuff. I later found out that one of my colleagues was doing the same thing; going home and writing fiction after spending all day writing for an editor who was firmly anchored in 1978

            Q   You have put some amazing photographs online that you took in Iceland. How difficult was it to leave such a beautiful place?
            A     It was a wrench to leave, as I have some roots there that go deep. I met my wife there, two of our children were born in Iceland, but probably the right thing to do at the time.
Iceland isn’t an easy place to live in, especially as we didn’t live in comfortable urban Reykjavík. It’s at the edge of the world and although it is undeniably beautiful, somehow that passes you by when your car is buried past the roof in a snowdrift or when there are only a few short hours of daylight and the sun doesn’t actually rise at all.

  Q       Q You have lived in at least two countries.  Does the displacement of settling in a new place add to your ability to feel detached as a writer?
            A   The expression ‘Glöggt er gests augað’ means that the visitor has the sharper eye. I find it much easier to write about Iceland when I’m not there, as if the distance puts things better into perspective.
I read the papers online and listen to ‘Steam’ radio at home, so that keeps me in touch, and there’s rarely a day when I don’t speak to someone in Iceland (skype is a godsend). I have a far clearer idea of what’s going on in Icelandic politics than what’s going on in Westminster.
It’s also important to spend time there and there’s no substitute for speaking to people face-to-face. I don’t do a great deal of proper research, but I find it’s important to spend time there, with Steam radio on in the background, read the papers, chat to the fishermen at the quay, taxi drivers, the coppers and minor criminals I know, listen to what people are saying in the Co-op or the bank, take in the internecine local politics and the petty feuds going on, all that kind of stuff – and then write about it later

            Q   On your blog you claim that ‘developing a kevlar-lined rhino skin is an essential part of any writer’s kit.’  I think we all know what you mean, but can you explain why you said that?
            A   It’s uncomfortable when someone who gave up after forty pages gives your book a laconic one star, or likes it but still gave it a solitary star because it was delayed in the post.
I get a good few complaints about the complex names and how difficult they are to cope with. The books are set in Iceland and people there aren’t called Jim and Sally. The names aren’t what we are used to and there’s no getting around that, regardless of my efforts to keep them as accessible when I could easily have made them so much more complex.
Anyhow, I decided to give a character in Chilled to the Bone a name so awkward that I defy any non-Icelander to pronounce it. But I did give him a suitably short nickname, so the real name only has to appear once or twice. I had expected my editor to ask for it to be changed, but she didn’t say anything, so it stayed in.

            Q   How do you account for the gloomy atmosphere of Nordic Crime Fiction? Does it reflect the society? Do you think different countries have different generic characteristics and if so, why?
            A   There are differences. Icelanders are different to the other Nordic people as it’s an island nation and there’s a real frontier mentality, which it shares to an extent with Norway. Maybe it’s because both have a past as colonies, while Sweden and Denmark were trading nations with aspirations of empire?
There are Nordic stereotypes that sometimes ring true. Danes have an irreverent sense of humour that the other Nordic nations don’t have in quite such abundance. I’d best not be too forthright about the national stereotypes – but they all make fun of each other.
It’s not just the crime fiction that’s gloomy. Literature does get taken very seriously and maybe that has spilled over into their crime fiction. In reality they are no more gloomy than we Brits are and in some ways they are less hung up and serious. They do know how to have a party when they put their minds to it. So, no. The image of gloom and misery that comes across in much Nordic fiction isn’t representative of the way they are.

            Q   Is your writing governed by plot or character? 
            A   Character, definitely. I’ve tried plotting things in detail in advance, but it didn’t work for me. I get halfway through careful plans, and then an idea pops up that’s too good to not use, and suddenly the plan has been lost. So I work with a fairly loose set of waypoints and that seems to work better.

            Q   You wrote that one of your villains ‘was a whole load of fun to write’.  It is certainly my experience that the bad guys are much more fun to write than the good guys. Is this a problem for you when writing a series with a protagonist on the right side of the moral compass?
A   It’s starting to become more of a problem now. I’m having to make more of a conscious effort to  write more Gunna, mostly by giving the poor lady a hard time. She gets the shock of her life in      Chilled to the Bone. I’m around halfway through the first draft of what should be the fourth             Gunna book, but so far she has hardly made an appearance, which is a little worrying.

            Q   Good titles are so hard to think of. Your first novel was called Frozen Out in the UK and Frozen Assets in the US. Why did the title change?  Were you involved in the decision, and which of the titles do you prefer and why?
            A   Originally the book was called Frozen Assets. Then one of the Icelandic banksters published a memoir with the same title, so I asked my publisher if they wanted to change it. They said not to worry about it. But at the last minute they decided to change it, and I was told when the decision had been made. By then, the US publisher was too far gone to make the same change. So the book appeared under two titles, which has caused some confusion. With the benefit of hindsight, they were entirely right. Frozen Out is a better title, although it bears no relevance to the subject matter.

            Q   Frozen Out is set in a small community. How important was that social setting to you? Could you imagine setting a similar book in a large metropolis?
            A   I wanted a setting that wasn’t all Reykjavík, as the countryside is very different in so many ways. I lived in a couple of smaller towns in Iceland, one with a population of around 700, so that’s the side of the country that I know best. The e-book that published in January (Winterlude) is set partly in the north of Iceland, not far from where I used to live, but I’m not sure I would have got away with that so easily in a full-length novel.

            Q   When I started writing my first series I deliberately chose a female protagonist because I wasn’t confident about writing from a male perspective. With a spin off series I’m having to do just that. Why did you choose a female protagonist for your series?
            A   I hadn’t deliberately chosen to use a female protagonist, but Gunna just came to life and demanded attention, and seemed like another challenge. She was the sidekick in the original draft, but I twigged after a while that the original lead character was a hopeless collection of clichés. So I discarded him in favour of the far more interesting Gunna.

Chilled to the Bone
Published by Soho Crime 13 April 2013.