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Friday, 19 July 2019

‘The Loophole’ by Vera Morris

Published by Accent Press,
9 May 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78615661-7 (PB)

The Anglian Detective Agency has bagged its next big case, and this time they're going undercover!

Sam Salter, the slightly sleazy owner of a small chain of holiday camps, is keen to get to the bottom of the disappearance of two of his young female staff members, before someone else goes missing and the press get involved. The police have already drawn a blank, but in fact paid the case little attention; the girls were of age and might simply have gone off with boyfriends.

Three of the agency's unlikely team of five leave newly married Stuart and Mabel at home to delve into the background, and go to work at the camp at the centre of the mystery: former detective inspector Frank as a gardener, former school games mistress Lauren as a swimming coach, and former school secretary Dorothy in the office. Each is tasked with investigating one or more of the suspects – and then two particularly nasty murders up the ante, supporting Frank's fear that the two girls are dead.

Like the previous two in the series, The Loophole is alive with intriguing characters. There's war-damaged Thomas Coltman, who spends his nights wandering the Suffolk coast, picking up detritus and building strange sculptures from it. Gareth Hinney the head gardener is grumpy and taciturn. Belinda Tweedie the boss's secretary is officious and pushy, though clearly very nervous about something.

Aside from Mabel's culinary wizardry when they all meet up for a confab, and Lauren's flagging romance with Doctor Oliver Neave, there's not much domestic background this time. Instead, there's a detailed look at day-to-day life behind the scenes at a holiday camp: squabbling in the office, a smelly compost heap hidden behind a wall, a constant flow of laundry for the beds and bathrooms. And then there's Orford Ness, a wartime bomb testing site still littered with unexploded ordnance, which earns its reputation as a bleak, sinister place.

The members of the Anglian Detective Agency solve not only the disappearances which had flummoxed the police (though their new ally DI Revie does lend a hand); they also unmask a murderer or two, and unravel another mystery dating back nearly thirty years, and they do it all with the same engaging blend of style and down-to-earth-ness as in the previous two books. The series is set in the 1970s, so I shan't be holidaying in Suffolk any time soon since they'll all have retired, but I hope I'll be reading about their exploits again very soon indeed!


Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Vera Morris blew soap bubbles in Woolworth's, cooked in hotels and electro-fished in Welsh rivers, before becoming a teacher.  Most of her teaching career was in a local mixed comprehensive in South Oxfordshire, where she became Headteacher. Her interests include writing, gardening, cooking, reading, the theatre, museums and art galleries, and travelling in her campervan. 

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, 15 July 2019

‘Never Be Broken’ by Sarah Hilary

Published by Headline,
16 May 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-6375-9 PB)

London streets are becoming more and more unsafe for young children.
Detective Inspector Marnie Rome and her team are investigating the case of a number of children being recruited, often from care homes, to run weapons and drugs for the London gangs. Many of them end up being killed. The case suddenly becomes more urgent when unusually a thirteen-year-old white girl Raffa from a wealthy family is shot down in the street by a gang member. A case of mistaken identity? Or not?

Marnie and Detective Sergeant Noah Jake visit the devastated family, to be met by a tirade of abuse from the father. How could they accuse his innocent daughter of having anything to do with street gangs? But then they find evidence in her bedroom that connects her to the notorious block of flats, Erskine tower.
While following a lead at the flats, Noah witnesses another tragic death of a young girl leading him to become really obsessed with getting rid of the gangs.

Meanwhile he has his own demons to deal with. He is followed around by the ghost of his brother, knifed to death ten weeks ago. He finds solace in his company at first but then begins to fear him.

The further Marnie and team delve into the involvement of Erskine tower the more they discover just how much gang culture it is hiding. Then they find a connection to Russia, is it a coincidence that Raffa's father has business dealings with the Russians? Is he all that he makes out, what is he hiding?

It seems just about everyone connected to Erskine tower is corrupt, even a grief counsellor comes under suspicion.
Can Marnie and her fellow police officers untangle this web of murder and deceit before any more youngsters are killed?
A really well written book dealing with the present culture of gang related crimes. Sarah Hilary has a knack of bringing the true feelings of her characters to the fore. I have already read Come and Find Me which I really enjoyed and I think Never Be Broken is even better. I hope she writes another very soon. Highly Recommended.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Sarah Hilary’s debut novel Someone Else’s Skin won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2015. It was the Observer’s Book of the Month, a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, and has been published worldwide. Come and Find Me is her latest book published in March 2018. Sarah lives in Bath.

Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.

Debbie Young-Interview

Carol Westron talks with Debbie Young

Debbie Young is the author of several collections of short stories and the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, a cosy crime series set in the Cotswolds.
She is UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and the founder and organiser of the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival.

Carol:                The Sophie Sayers books are set in a village in the Cotswolds and both are very vividly portrayed. What is it about the Cotswolds that makes them such a special place for you?
Debbie:             I’ve loved the Cotswolds ever since my father brought our family here on holiday, to show us where he had been evacuated to during the war. Even if there wasn’t that personal connection, I’d still be charmed by its quiet, natural beauty - gentle, rolling green hills dotted with sheep; gorgeous honey-coloured buildings and dry-stone walls; and sense of space and fresh air. The local accents are soft on the ear and the
people are kind and funny.  Although I was born and raised in Sidcup, on the border of Greater London and Kent, the Cotswolds feels like home. I finally achieved my ambition of moving to the Cotswolds when I was in my early 30s and have lived in the same Victorian Cotswold stone cottage ever since. I have become a very active member of the village community, and now I never want to live anywhere else.

Carol: In the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries you combine an on-going love story, a village full of eccentric but usually lovable characters and a mystery. Did you plan such a brilliant combination, or did it develop as you were writing?
Debbie: Thank you, you’re very kind! I planned the series of seven from the outset to span the course of a village year. This was partly to allow the mystery element in each book to tie in with the passing seasons, such as staging the Nativity Play at Christmas. I liked the idea of building up a complete picture of a year in the life of a village as the context for each story.

But I wanted to provide more than just a series of seasonal puzzles. I also wanted to celebrate village life and its sense of community. The best village communities respect individuals and allow people to be themselves, which is one reason why they often boast a fine collection of eccentrics!

I planned quite a few of the subsidiary characters in advance, such as shopkeeper Carol Barker, a bit of a Mrs Malaprop who organises her shop in alphabetical order by product. Others turned up of their own accord. Old Billy, for example, came into the bookshop café for his elevenses, started heckling Sophie and Hector, and wouldn’t go away. Other characters dreamed up for one book, such as teenage tearaway Tommy insisted on
returning in later episodes – or readers wanted more of them!

I thought the romantic element would provide an extra dimension and an additional source of tension. Gentle romance is a useful foil to darker side of the story, providing reassurance, hope and light relief. It’s also an
important part of the development of the characters. There’s a story arc planned for Sophie and Hector’s romantic relationship spanning all seven books in the series.

Carol: As I indicated in the previous question, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries are detective stories but they also have Sophie’s love story as a very prominent theme running through each. How do you balance the love interest and the detective story?
Debbie: The mystery element is the starting point for their romantic relationship, because in the first book, only Hector is at first persuaded by Sophie that a murder has been committed – everyone else thinks for ages that the death in the opening chapter is due to natural causes. Learning to trust and support each other comes partly from working together to solve the mysteries, and that fuels their romantic relationship. But I’m not making it too easy for either Sophie or Hector, or else the relationship would become boring (for the reader, anyway!) I try to make the romantic storyline and the mystery plot feed off each other, and to be greater than the sum of the parts.

Carol:                In your earlier career you had some fascinating jobs, often involved with marketing and writing, but I got the impression that the job closest to your heart was your work for the charity Readathon. Could you tell us a little about that and your involvement with it?
Answer) I’ve been very lucky to be in full employment for all my adult life, in jobs which always allowed me to do a lot of writing of some kind, such as magazine articles and features, newsletters, brochures, and latterly website copy. But in 2010, I decided to pursue my real ambition which was to write fiction. For this I needed more time, so I quit my full-time day-job at a boarding school and sought a part-time job instead. I was incredibly lucky to find just a short commute away what was then known as the children’s reading charity Readathon and has now been rebranded as Read for Good. Read for Good is a national registered charity that promotes the benefits of children reading for pleasure by running sponsored events in schools and other places throughout the country. The money raised by the children taking part enables Read for Good to send free books and storytellers into children in hospital. Children love helping other children, so even reluctant readers are encouraged to read for Read for Good.
Seeing non-readers transformed into bookworms and children and parents benefitting from the hospital programme is heartwarming, and I feel very privileged to have been a part of it. I worked for the charity for three years, liaising directly with schools and hospitals, and spreading the word about its wonderful work.  Working such an inspiring cause that revolved around books also somehow seemed to validate my writing ambitions and encouraged me to take my novel-writing ambitions seriously.

Carol: Tell us about the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival and your connection to it.
Debbie: I founded HULF five years ago, after being a volunteer for World Book Night for several years. World Book Night (WBN) is sponsored by publishers to encourage adults to read for pleasure, so it echoed what Read for Good does for children.

To coincide with WBN 2015, I wanted to stage a free local literary event for the people in my village, and thought I’d bring together a few author friends for an evening in one of the village pubs, The Fox Inn, and staged some talks and readings. All those I spoke to loved the idea, and we ended up with a packed programme from 6pm till 11pm, and the wonderful Katie Fforde, bestselling romantic novelist, kindly came to launch it.

Before the end of the evening, people were saying to me “Can you make it a whole-day event next year?” and “Can you do it on a Saturday so we can bring our kids?” Of course, I said yes – and ever since it’s been a full-day event, on a Saturday, that gets a little bigger and a little better each year. We’ve just had the fifth HULF, which included contributions from about 60 authors, plus an art exhibition, a poetry slam, a bookshop, and a café, involving six venues simultaneously! 

All the authors and artists give their time as volunteers to ensure we can stage it as a free event, to encourage everyone to come along, including both eager and reluctant adult readers and those who simply don’t have the budget for litfest tickets. We are also inclusive of all ages and abilities. Our oldest author this year was 84 and the youngest 4! One of our venues is the village primary school, and we helped them publish a poetry book featuring a poem by every child in the school. We also have an outreach programme into the village care home for the elderly so that we can involve residents who are too frail to attend the main festival venues.  Photo left by Angela Fitch.

I could write reams about the Festival, I feel so passionately about it, but if you’d like to learn more, please visit its website at, where we also have a new blog featuring a guest post each week by one of our Festival authors on their impressions of the most recent HULF.  Debbie  and Brad Borkan, keynote speaker at this year's Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival.

Carol: Like myself, you are a passionate supporter of Indie Publishing and an ambassador and editor for The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). In your experience, what are the advantages of self publishing? And what, if any, are the drawbacks?
Debbie: I’m proud to be UK ambassador for ALLi, co-author of its series of guidebooks for indie authors, and for six years I was also commissioning editor of its author advice blog.

Modern technology (digital publishing, print-on-demand, online sales) has been incredibly empowering for authors, enabling them to self-publish in a manner that is both professional and economically viable.

To be a self-publishing or indie author essentially means that the author assumes all the duties of a publishing house, rather than just writing the book: editing, design, marketing, selling rights, etc. This means project-managing a team of experts who specialise in those things – hiring editors, proofreaders, cover designers, etc. It also means you are in charge of the marketing (but to be fair, if your books are published by a traditional publishing house, they’ll expect you to do lots of marketing too – a trade contract doesn’t let you off the marketing hook!)

That’s obviously a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, but if you’re prepared to learn, there are great resources out there, such as ALLi, which will make the process easier for you and hold your hand along the way. I highly recommend joining ALLi to anyone who is serious about self-publishing – it offers a fast-track to expertise, a massive network of trustworthy contacts, and invaluable practical and moral support. For more information about the many benefits of membership, visit

Carol: I understand you’ve got some exciting plans on your writing horizon. Please tell us about your next Sophie Sayers book and also about your new venture, Secrets at St Bride’s.
Debbie: After writing the fifth in the planned seven-book Sophie Sayers series, I wanted to start a new series and then alternate between the two, to give my readers (and myself!) more variety. In the same way that the Sophie books celebrate village life, the new series will celebrate life in a boarding school community. I worked in one for 13 years, so am very familiar with the territory!

Boarding schools are similar to villages in many ways – a limited pool of characters, quirky traditions, and an alluring setting – so it was a natural side-step for me. I’ve therefore created a fictitious boarding school for girls, St Bride’s, but the storylines will revolve around the staffroom rather than the pupils. I hope it will appeal particularly to anyone who grew up, as I did, hooked on classic school stories such as the Malory Towers and Chalet School series. My series won’t include murders – not least because no school could remain open if staff or pupils were being murdered – but every member of staff has a dark secret to hide, and there will be plenty of mysterious goings-on. There’ll also be a strong romantic element and plenty of humour – my usual mashup, really!

I like to think of this new series as “School Stories for Grown-ups” – and pure fun! Secrets at St Bride’s will be first in the series, which is due out later this summer, and the second should follow early 2020, after Sophie Sayers #6, Murder Your Darlings, which I’m just starting to write now.

Carol: With all your exciting activities, I’m not sure how much spare time you have, but what are your other hobbies and interests?
Debbie: You’re right, there’s not a lot of spare time, but whatever spare waking hours I have, I put to good use! As well as running HULF, I’m a member of the Friends of St Mary’s, which supports the fabric of our wonderful
pre-Domesday Book village church. I read voraciously and across multiple genres. I love to travel in our family’s camper van with my Scottish husband and teenage daughter – I am now planning a bonus eighth book in the Sophie Sayers series to be set in Inverness and the Scottish Highlands, where we spend a lot of our holidays. Back home in the Cotswolds, we are lucky enough to have a beautiful cottage garden, and although my husband, who is retired, does all the real work there, I am very good at issuing him with instructions! I also love visiting local museums, art galleries, stately homes and anywhere else where I might find inspiration for my stories. I’m so lucky to live in the Cotswolds where such places abound.            
Photo above right by Angela Fitch. Debbie in the bluebell woods