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Author Interview: Chris Carter- The Caller

 

July heralds the paperback release of The Caller– the latest thriller featuring detectives Hunter and Garcia, and no doubt depravity and murder await them. Chris Carter has stopped by to tell us more, starting with what the new book is all about…

The Caller is a novel about a new type of serial killer who likes to use Social Media for his victims. The theme of the novel that will hit very close to home with a lot of people because of its theme. It’s also quite scary at times, so by all means, go check it out.

There is an established history of detective duos in the crime genre and Hunter and Garcia form an extremely effective partnership, despite their obvious differences. The steadfast Garcia is the perfect foil for the troubled yet brilliant Hunter, so how did you formulate such a winning partnership? And when they were separated in a previous book, was there a stronger impetus to team them up again?

To be very truthful, Hunter and Garcia’s partnership was formulated by chance. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to write about a sole detective. I wanted my main character to have a partner. I guess that the main reason why they are so well accepted is because I have tried my best to keep Hunter and Garcia as real as possible. Yes, Hunter has a high IQ and a very analytical mind, which of course helps him in all the investigations, but he’s not self-absorbed or egocentric. In fact, I write him as one of the most common people one could meet, with the sort of common problems we all face. His relationship with Garcia tends to be a little funny, simply because Hunter is not a “joke” person and Garcia is.

It was fun to write a book where Hunter and Garcia weren’t working together, but yes, there was a very strong impetus to team them up again.

Your background in criminal psychology is well referenced, but what intrigues me is whether you cast mind back to a particular individual and construct a plot around them, or is it plot first and then you select an antagonist?

To be honest I have done both. Sometimes the first thing I think about concerning a possible new novel is the main idea for the plot, sometimes I envisage the antagonist first and then come up with a plot.

I guess it’s not too much of a stretch to say that your regular readers enjoy the more macabre aspects of your writing, but on a more serious note, how cathartic do you find this aspect of writing out the darkness, in terms of those you have encountered in your past?

That’s a very good question. Most of the time, writing out the darkness I have encountered in my past, or even the darkness that undoubtedly resides inside me can be very liberating. Writing down what’s going on inside ones mind is a very well known therapeutic method, but sometimes writing down this dark passages brings back some very strong memories – memories that I’d rather not have disturbed, but I guess that that’s part of the job, really.

Why do we love to read about serial killers, and even form a strangely amicable relationship with them? I would of course mention Hannibal Lector, as it would be rude not to, but I rather liked Lucian Folter from An Evil Mind, despite the fact he was quite a sick puppy indeed…

That’s a very hard question to answer, so here’s the long version.

As a criminal behavior psychologist and as a crime thriller writer, I have been asked numerous times why is it that people are so fascinated by crime and murder? Why are people so fascinated by death and by those who cause it? Why do killers and what goes on inside their heads intrigue us so much?

The truth, I believe, is that there is no single correct answer to any of those questions. Every psychologist, criminologist, author, scholar, or whoever else has ever spent any time exploring the “if’s” and “why’s” that inevitably accompany every possible answer we can come up with, has undoubtedly come to their own interpretation of the possible reasons behind such fascination. The following is merely my own conclusion, based on my understanding of criminal psychology, what I know of the human mind and the many years I spent working with law enforcement agencies and interviewing serious criminal offenders, many of them murderers. My conclusion came from analysing two quite simple human aspects.

One – Human beings are inquisitive by nature. It’s just the way our brains are wired up, for example, do you remember annoying your parents no end when you were a kid, always asking – ‘Why this? Why that? Why something else?’ Do you remember what would happen as soon as you got an answer? That’s right, you would move the goal post back a little bit and the “why’s” would start all over again. Maybe your kids are doing the same to you today. Well, the good news is – they are not deliberately trying to annoy you. Those questions are due to the naturally inquisitive nature of the human brain. As we grow older, the questions change, but the desire to find answers to things we fail to understand never goes away. The human brain is always trying to learn new things, always trying to find answers to questions that are ever changing. The hunger for knowledge and understanding simply never really vanishes.

Two – I guess one could argue that the primordial mystery men have been struggling to understand since the beginning of times is life itself. Some of us have become obsessed with trying to find answers to questions such as – How did we get here and where did we come from? I believe that from that intense desire to understand life comes an equally intense desire to understand the lack of it – death. Where do we go, if we go anywhere, once we leave this life form? Is there life after death? Etc.

Once you add these two factors together – the naturally inquisitive nature of the human mind and an inherent human desire to understand life and death – the answer to the question “Why are people so fascinated by crime and murder?” becomes almost obvious. Murder sits right on that thin line that separates life from death. So, with that in mind, I believe that many of us, trying to satisfy our natural human curiosity, would love to understand the reasons that could lead someone to commit murder, to take away the life of a fellow human being, to play God so to speak, sometimes with extreme prejudice. Our intrigue and curiosity heightens considerably when the person in question is a repeat offender – a serial killer, and even more so when the murder is preceded by torture. In a way, our brains long to understand how can a human being, just like you and I, do something most of us could never even contemplate, and worse yet, take such pleasure from something so gruesome and sadistic that he/she would do it again, and again, and again. We simply want to understand.

A great number of us, searching for that understanding, will turn to books, films, documentaries, research papers whatever we can find. The problem is; we are all different. Every murderer or serial killer out there has their own motives for doing what they do, crazy or not. As a criminal behaviour psychologist I have never encountered two murderers with the same exact reasons behind their actions. So as soon as we finally understand the motivations behind the actions of, let’s say Killer X, along comes Killer Y, with a whole different Modus Operandi, a whole new signature, and a whole new set of reasons for us to try to figure out. We’re then back to asking the same questions, but inevitably we’ll keep getting different answers with every case. So in truth, our curiosity and fascination with crime and murder will never be totally satisfied, and we’ll keep coming back for more. Always trying to understand the reasons behind something unreasonable. That in itself could trigger an addiction, a vicious cycle, and that’s why crime readers and crime fans can become such aficionados – The hunger for understanding simply never really vanishes.

You have made use of the contemporary phenomenon that is social media, and referenced the dark web. Despite the recognised pernicious evils of both, you’ve got to admit it’s a bit of a godsend to crime writers. How deeply have you explored the dark web in the course of your writing?

Yes, I do agree that the Internet is a Godsend to writers. I know it certainly is to me, but to quote a song from Poison – every rose has its thorn. The Internet has its good side as well as its bad side. I did explore the dark web quite a bit, actually and yes, it can be very dark.

I’ve often heard authors say that they cannot read fiction while they are planning/writing their books- is this true of you? Any particular authors you admire?

For me it definitely is. I don’t read at all while I’m writing a novel.

To be honest, after becoming an author myself, I now admire every author out there because this is a tough business to be in.

Who would play you in a biopic of your life, as psychologist, international author, and total rock-god?

Not sure about the Rock God part, but thank you very much. Not sure, maybe Dwayne Johnson as we both have the same physique and the same hair color.

Perfect soundtrack for writing? Musicians you’d like to jam with?

Any sort of metal for me. It gets the thinking gears rolling.

Musicians I’d like to jam with. There are too many, but certainly Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and A Perfect Circle. That would be awesome.

What’s next?

As soon as I am done with book 9 – The Gallery of the Dead – I will take a break of about a month (maybe more), recharge everything then start on book 10.

 

After a tough week, Tanya Kaitlin is looking forward to a relaxing night in, but as she steps out of her shower, she hears her phone ring.  The video call request comes from her best friend, Karen Ward.  Tanya takes the call and the nightmare begins. Karen is gagged and bound to a chair in her own living room.  If Tanya disconnects from the call, if she looks away from the camera, he will come after her next, the deep, raspy, demonic voice at the other end of the line promises her. As Hunter and Garcia investigate the threats, they are thrown into a rollercoaster of evil, chasing a predator who scouts the streets and social media networks for victims, taunting them with secret messages and feeding on their fear…

I cannot resist the allure of a new title from Chris Carter (One By One,   An Evil Mind ) and his dynamite pairing of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD. Once again in The Caller our intrepid duo are drawn into the nasty world of another completely loco serial killer, who operates via the world of social media, exacting some wonderfully visceral, and cruel and unusual punishments on his victims and those closest to them. Throw in a hitman looking for revenge on the killer too, whilst hoping to dodge the radar of Hunter and Garcia, and what Carter dishes up is a spine chilling, violent, read in one sitting (in subdued lighting if you dare) serial killer thriller with some very nasty surprises indeed…Recommended.

A big thank you to Chris for answering my questions and to Simon & Schuster for the ARC.

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Blog Tour- Guest Post- C J Carver- The 5 Things I Do When I Get Stuck Writing- #SpareMeTheTruth

Carver, Caroline 3

To mark the publication of C J Carver’s latest high-octane thriller Spare Me The Truth, I am delighted to be hosting a guest post from Caroline, that offers some top tips for those sticky moments when inspiration temporarily takes leave from the creative process…

Spare me the TruthThe 5 things I do when I get stuck writing

  1. Don’t panic

Over time, I’ve learned that getting stuck is part of the process. I used to freak out, convinced that if I wrote my way through it I’d be OK but for me this doesn’t work – in this state, I write absolute rubbish.

For some reason, with every book I have two or three spells of writing inactivity, and now I recognize it for what it is: time to take a break and let my subconscious chew the creative fat undisturbed. When I eventually face my computer I’m happy to be there and the words and ideas flow.

  1. Don’t sit around waiting for inspiration

Instead of sitting and glaring at my computer screen, I get active. I go into town, tuck myself into the library or a busy café, and people watch. I doodle. I try to imagine what the more interesting looking people want out of life and how far they’d go to get it. What their greatest fears are. Then I go to a bookshop and browse. I walk a lot. I watch rubbish TV. I give my unconscious mind a good talking to and tell it to keep working on the book.

  1. Go for a drive or get decorating

There is something about movement against the eyes that kicks in the right side of the brain – the creative side. Anything repetitive like scrubbing the floor, decorating, fly-fishing (which I love) and which occupies my body but frees my mind, is part of my arsenal for getting unstuck. Driving does the same thing. Coming back from Sainsbury’s when I’m mid-way through a book is brilliant. I drive through a wood with tall trees and the movement of the trees against the sky does something to my brain because I invariably have my best ideas then. Weird, but true.

  1. Random exercises

If I’m only briefly stuck, like mid-way through a chapter, then there are some tricks I use, like having my next paragraph reveal an unexpected turn of events. Or interrupting the scene with a bizarre new character. I did this one time and the character remained, giving me a whole new angle on the book which was a bit of a surprise. Also, it’s worth checking you’re on track and that your characters are under continual stress, the story moving along, and that each chapter ends with a cliff hanger, no matter how small.

  1. Handwrite a letter from your main character to their nemesis

There is something about the action of pen against paper that stimulates the brain. P.D. James handwrote all her books, apparently. I think there is something about the time it takes to write a sentence that gives the brain enough time to move on that makes this so successful. I’m a touch typist and can write 110 words a minute, which is great when I wrote the final action scene in Spare Me the Truth – no stopping there! – but for more sensitive scenes or when I’m struggling, I always pick up a pen.

C.J. Carver’s first novel Blood Junction won the CWA Debut Dagger and was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best mystery books of the year. Half-English, half New Zealand, C.J. has been a travel writer and long-distance rally driver, driving London to Saigon and London to Cape Town. Her novels have been published in the UK and the USA and translated into several languages. Find out more about Carver and her books by visiting her website here Follow on Twitter @C_J_Carver

Missed any stops on the  #SpareMeTheTruth blog tour? Catch up at these excellent sites…

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Blog Tour- Guest Post- David Jackson- My Liverpool- A Tapping At My Door + Review

Jackson, DaveAnd so to Raven Crime Reads for the next stop on the blog tour marking the release of David Jackson’s fifth book, A Tapping At My Door. With the previous books all being set in the jolly old U. S. of A, Jackson has stayed closer to home with this one, setting it in his native city of Liverpool. In a special guest post, the author reflects on some of the locations used in this compelling new thriller…

My Liverpool

dj“The title chosen for this blog post is ‘My Liverpool’, but it could equally be called ‘Cody’s Liverpool’, as there’s a curious overlap between the places I know well and the locations used in ‘A Tapping at My Door’!

Stoneycroft

The novel opens in a house in Stoneycroft, about 3 or 4 miles from the city centre. This was actually the first house I bought. It was nothing special, but it got me on the property ladder. At that time I had no thoughts of becoming a novelist!

Bold Street

When we first meet Cody, he’s working undercover as a busker at the bottom of Bold Street. At the time of writing, there was a massive Waterstones here. This was closed down a few months later, so I had to go back and rewrite the chapter. From this location, we follow Cody on a foot pursuit through Central Station and into Clayton Square.

Stanley Road, Kirkdale

Cody’s unit, the Major Incident Team, is housed in the police station here in this deprived area of Liverpool. It is actually situated next to a funeral parlour, hence the bit in the novel about the locals joking that it’s the only way the homicide detectives can find a dead body.

Kensington

libThe investigation takes Cody to this residential area just outside the city centre. In the book, he remembers visiting the library here as a kid, with the Francis Bacon quote above the library door: ‘Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.’ Funny that, because I remember exactly the same things from when I was a kid.

Rodney Street

As mentioned in the novel, Rodney Street is sometimes referred to as the Harley Street of the north, with its doctors, dentists, etc. Cody rents a flat above a dental practice here. Believe it or not, it’s based on a place in which I once lived on the same street. The buildings are huge, Georgian town houses, with lots of story potential, as will become apparent in the series.

Fairfield

Not far from Kensington is Fairfield, which is where Cody’s family lives. This is where I was born, and the Cody household is loosely based on what I can remember of our own place all those years ago. Running between Kensington and Fairfield is Sheil Road, close to another house I lived in, and the location for another murder in the novel.

Pubs: Ye Cracke, The Philharmonic, The Beehive

250px-YeCrackeLiverpoolOMI have had many pints of beer in many of the pubs in Liverpool, and a few of these are described in the book. Ye Cracke is a tiny watering hole, renowned as the place that John Lennon used to drink. Just around the corner from here is the building that used to be the grammar school attended by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and yours truly (although I was there much later!) By contrast, the Philharmonic pub just down the road is a huge establishment, famous for its ornate urinals! Another pub I spent some time in is The Beehive, where Cody has a meeting with Dobson the journalist.

Hope Street

I love Hope Street. Aptly named, it connects the city’s two cathedrals. It’s also home to the Everyman Theatre and a number of great restaurants. One of these – the London Carriage Works – is where Cody goes to confront the newspaper editor.

Brownlow Hill

This runs from town up through the university campus. At its bottom end is the famous Adelphi Hotel, and the car park behind this forms another location for the book.

And finally …

There is one other Liverpool landmark I’d like to talk about, but can’t, as it plays a key role in the novel’s finale. You’ll just have to read the book to find out more!”

David Jackson is the author of a series of crime thrillers featuring New York Detective Callum Doyle. His debut novel, Pariah, was Highly Commended in the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Awards. When not writing fiction, David spends his time as a lecturer in a university science department. He also gives occasional workshops on creative writing. Follow the author on Twitter @Author_Dave.

RAVEN REVIEWS:

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I think you can probably tell from my previous reviews for Pariah The Helper , Marked and Cry Baby that I am rather keen on the oeuvre of Mr Jackson, and this quartet of New York set thrillers were filled with twists, humour and a reckless, but all the more endearing, police protagonist, Detective Callum Doyle. After a small hiatus, Jackson returns to the world of the crime thriller, with a new setting, new characters, and the temptation of a deliciously dark and compelling investigation…

Beginning with an epigraph from The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (one extra point allocated by this reviewer) reflecting the title of the book, we are immediately plunged into a nerve shredding opening, to which we must thank Mr Jackson for giving all us single ladies the right heebie jeebies. Disturbed by a tapping at her back door, and in a move as stupid as going to the basement in a horror film, Terri Latham goes to investigate finding a raven is responsible for the noise. Then a killer strikes, thus killing two birds with one stone (sorry couldn’t resist that one, and also the consequent loss of formerly allocated point for crimes against ravens). When Latham’s murder is investigated further, events from her recent past lead to the revisiting of a contentious case centred on police brutality. Tasked with uncovering a killer is DS Nathan Cody, a former undercover operative carrying the scars of an undercover mission gone wrong,  but can Cody keep his head as the pressure mounts, and the body count begins to rise…

You know those real read-in-one-sitting thrillers, where little short of impending starvation or natural disaster would move you from the sofa? Yep, this is one of those. Although at first glance, you could be mistaken for thinking that this was an all too familiar plot of weirdo on rampage with twisted agenda, versus damaged cop, Jackson adds a certain verve to the whole affair as he sucks us in deeper to the tormented worlds of his protagonists. Cody is a hugely empathetic character, and as his personal demons are slowly revealed his stock rises in the whole narrative arc. You have an unerring sense of the devil on his shoulder, but this is counterbalanced well by the curious mix of bravado, and at times deep self-questioning, that Jackson imbues into his character. Less successful for me initially (there was a slight look to the heavens) was the slightly awkward scenario of him being partnered up with a former lover, but my fears were assuaged as DC Megan Webley established herself quickly as acutely necessary to the unfolding of Cody’s story. I also loved his boss, DCI Stella Blunt who threatened to ride roughshod over everyone on her sporadic appearances in the plot, with an incomparable mix of steel underscored by a certain softness.

As the book races to a thrilling denouement with the killer’s motivations at last revealed, it is apt that Jackson draws on two distinctly recognisable facets of Liverpool and Liverpudlian history to bring the story to a close. I always enjoy it when British authors write so realistically and recognisably about their own stamping grounds, as in the books of Mari Hannah with the North East, David Mark with Hull, and fellow Liverpudlian Kevin Sampson for example. Throughout the book, Jackson takes us on an affectionate but not completely misty-eyed, trip through the familiar streets of his native city, and the city takes a role as a separate character in the book. The author is refreshingly disinclined to paint too rosy a picture of this city with its mixture of recognisable growth set against the curse of inner city deprivation, and he achieves this balance perfectly.

I rather enjoyed this one as you can tell, as a well-executed thriller, with plenty of scope and a firm foundation for a projected series. Quoth the Raven- it’s really rather good…

Catch up with or follow the rest of the blog tour here:

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Bloody Scotland Blog Tour- An Interview With Simon Sylvester- The Visitors

 

cgmnwk2xaaal1yzAs the excitement builds in advance of this year’s Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, I am delighted to welcome Simon Sylvester, author of The Visitors, to answer some probing questions on his life as a writer…

imgID11657432_1422209231_crop_550x380To whet the reader’s appetite, tell us more about The Visitors…
The Visitors is set on a remote Scottish island called Bancree, and narrated by a girl called Flora Cannan. At 17, Flo feels trapped on the island, and is counting down the days before she can leave. Through her we learn about a string of mysterious disappearances, and also about the myth of the selkie, which Flo studies for a school project. The islanders become increasingly fearful as more people disappear, and then a curious couple move to Bancree, becoming Flora’s only friends. The book blends landscape, crime, and folklore. Ultimately, The Visitors is a murder mystery about love.

visitors1And your route to publication…
I wrote the first draft of the book during a year of teacher-training, part-time college work and part-time childcare, working mostly late at night. My amazing agent Sue sent it to Quercus Books, and we spent another six months working through some edits. I’ve been very lucky that the book has been quite well received, and went on to win a couple of prizes, for which I’m extremely grateful. It’s a strange thing to think of other people reading it. I know you’re not supposed to read reviews, but I can’t help myself. I spent so long bound up in the story and the characters that I’m still thrown by other people reading it.

How did you come to the decision to focus your book on two teenage female protagonists, and was it difficult to achieve the level of authenticity to their narrative voice that you have?
I don’t believe that women, or teenagers, are another sort of species, or speak a different language. Anger and love, frustration and joy, sadness and curiosity – these are true to all of us, and make a core of human experience. It’s my job to bring those things to my characters. Empathy is one of a writer’s most important weapons, I think, giving the ability to temporarily extend their own senses into a charcter, and their situation, and their world, and explore how that feels. I never considered myself a ventriloquist in writing like a teenage girl. If anything, it helped me go an adventure of my own.

What is it about small isolated communities that make them such fertile ground for crime fiction in particular?
Secrets! We all have them. Secrets are the key to all crime fiction. They work really well in cities, where victims and criminals are hidden in a crowd, and the mystery is to pick one culprit from many suspects, but it’s perhaps more unsettling when there are fewer players, and they’re forced together face to face. That can make the story immediate, urgent, personal. Familiarity makes us feel safe, after all, and undermining that sense of safety with fear and doubt is gold for any writer. It creates a grisly little melting pot of distrust, fear, hope and misdirection. Focusing on smaller communities also allows for the landscape itself to become involved, and I like writing about landscape. I spent a windswept week camping on Coll this summer, and found myself imagining a murder there. When the ferry comes once a day and fewer than 200 people live on the island, everyone is a suspect – the same friends and neighbours island communities depend upon. My four-year-old daughter also insisted she saw kelpies in the lochans. Maybe that’s one for another novel!

I loved the use of myth and the harking back to the age-old tradition of oral storytelling you employ in the book. Was there much research involved to capture the voice of the Shennachie?
The Visitors marked something of a crossroads for me. After years of writing experimental fiction, I pretty much stumbled into the understanding that actually, I wanted to write stories, real stories, stories that took me on journeys. I started going to more open mic nights and spoken word events, and enjoying what I heard. One of the best was called Dreamfired. Once a month, Dreamfired brought international storytellers to a hall in rural Cumbria, where they shared myths, or folk tales, or real life tales. I learned a lot from them about storyteling as both a tradition and a performance. When it came to writing The Visitors, I knew Izzy would tell self-contained stories, and he’d tell them in a quite theatrical way. I invented the stories he tells, though! The classic traditional selkie tale makes it into the book, but the others are mine; I did a lot of research, but couldn’t find selkie stories that did quite what I needed.

Is there an immediate connection to you having an idea about a book and getting it down on paper/screen, or do you have an extended period of cogitation. What is your normal writing routine? And what’s in the pipeline?
Some ideas are immediate, and some need to brew, but they all evolve when I start to write. The Visitors popped into my head almost fully-formed, but the more I wrote, the more it cartwheeled away from me. Flora and Ailsa set off on paths of their own choosing, and it began to feel as though I was along for the ride. My current work is a novel called The Hollows. I spent all of last year slogging away on it, grafting out shitty sentences and cutting them again, and then discovered on Christmas Eve, after a year of this grind, that I was writing the exact same plot and setting of another book. I took a deep breath, drank a strong beer, and deleted it all. I spent January with a notebook and a pen, remembering why I wanted to tell the story in the first place. Then I wrote it in in two days a week over the next four months – 105,000 words in about 35 working days, which feels insane. I’ll be finishing the last tweaks this week, and then my wife will read it, and then I’ll send it to my agent and keep my fingers firmly crossed. The Hollows is another mystery/thriller. It’s about memories and mud, and it’s the most fun I’ve had while writing a novel. Part of that is changing my work routine. I used to work late into the night and feel exhausted all the time, but now I go to bed early and write before I go to work in the morning. On a good morning, I can write 500 words. On a bad morning, I barely have time to read what I wrote the day before; but either way, I keep in touch with my manuscript, so I’m coming to it fresh when I get a full day to write. That’s made it easier to carry the flow of the story.

Sticking your head above the parapet, do you have any advice for the budding writer?
I’m a little wary of handing out advice, because ultimately all I have to offer is what works for me, and I suspect that everyone needs to find their own way of muddling through. So, with that said, my humble suggestions are to take public transport as much as possible, so you can eavesdrop in trains and bustops and cafes. Turn off the internet when you’re working and get rid of your smart phone – it’s a vampire for your senses. Go walking or swimming. Read outside your comfort zone. Go to workshops and spoken word nights, because writing needs community. Read your work aloud, all the time. Be kind. Be brave.

In the spirit of the British summer- if it ever arrives- you can invite a bunch of authors (alive or dead) round for a half-cooked barbecue sausage and a warm beer. Who would you choose? 

Never meet your heroes, right? There are living authors I’d like to meet, like Sarah Waters and Sarah Hall and Neil Gaiman and Arjun Basu and J. Robert Lennon, and dead authors I’d like to have met, like Hunter S. Thompson and Roberto Bolano, but most of all, I would have very much liked a pint of beer with Terry Pratchett. His books carried me through some difficult times, and he had a warmth and a humour and an anger that I’m going to miss…

 

cgmnwk2xaaal1yzSimon will be appearing at Bloody Scotland on Sunday September 13th: follow the link here

“We ship out to sea with two highly original voices in crime fiction. Former journalist turned crime writer Mark Douglas-Home’s novels follow oceanographer or ‘sea detective’ Cal McGill who has returned for a third instalment in The Malice of Waves. Not The Booker Prize winner Simon Sylvester’s thoughtful novel The Visitors sees disappearances happen on a storm-tossed Scottish island, and draws on myths of selkies and sea creatures.”

And don’t forget to keep up with the blog tour to discover more about the authors taking part in Bloody Scotland…

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William Shaw- A Book of Scars- Guest Post and Review

 

3116815To celebrate the release of A Book of Scars– the third outing for William Shaw’s sixties based detective series featuring Cathal Breen and Helen Tozer, (see my reviews of  A Song From Dead Lips and A House of Knives ) I am delighted to be hosting a guest post, in which William discusses the role of the woman in a man’s world and how this applies to his writing. My review of A Book of Scars follows… 

#1 Women in a Man’s World?

“I was recently on one of those panels where crime writers discuss issues around the genre; It was called Women in a A Man’s World. Obviously I’m interested in the role of women in crime fiction. In Helen Tozer I hope I’ve written a character who is idiosyncratic and whose 60s proto-feminist insight is a crucial part of the books. She is the young, clumsy, brusque woman in her early 20s; someone who grew up with The Beatles and who rubs the older generation up the wrong way.

But thinking about the idea of women in a man’s world, I realised I was less interested in the “women” bit than I was in the “man’s world.”

Strong women are nothing new in crime fiction. From V I Warshawski to Jane Tennison onwards, we’ve had many brilliant, female characters overcoming the realities of the men’s world. Women don’t have to behave like stereotypes.

In fact the real challenge is that the “feisty female” has herself become a cliché in the hands of many male writers. That’s the point my fellow panellist Ray Celestin made when discussing how he created  the character Ida for his wonderful debut The Axeman’s Jazz; overcompensating for years of sultry but ineffectual noire femme fatales, you can end up with characters that make Lisbeth Salander look like a wallflower.

But what of men? Are there as many interesting men in crime? Do we rely too much of the tropes of men being emotionally repressed, monosyllabic and lonely (often with the wreckage of a family life strewn behind them). Is that all men are now? Or is that meme starting to look increasingly ridiculous too?

In my male lead, Cathal Breen I realised I was trying to write a man who’s brilliance comes not from his manliness, but from his lack of it. Years looking after a dying father have meant that he couldn’t go out with the lads, didn’t sink pints with them, didn’t share life in a Police Section House, and had lost the knack of being part of police canteen culture. Emotionally raw after his father’s death, he has become over-sensitive and fearsome. He is no longer One of Them.

This isn’t to everyone’s taste. One American Amazon reviewer called Breen “a simpering little wimp”. Bad reviews on Amazon, I tell myself, let you know much more about what you’re doing right than the good ones – but I’m lucky to get very few. The point is, having an unstereotypical point of view, male or female, allows your protagonist to see the world differently.

Men are almost always much more than the 20th stereotype of them. I think that’s worth exploring. I don’t want to give too much away, but by the very violent end of the third book, A Book of Scars, a kind of healing has taken place. A domestic future beckons – something Breen has never had, and something that he’s really wishing for. I’m hoping that things work out for him.

But, of course, I’m almost certain they won’t. This is crime fiction, after all.”

Before becoming a crime writer, William Shaw was an award-winning music journalist and the author of several non-fiction books including s the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine. Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @william1shaw

Raven reviews A Book of Scars

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Following the violent denouement of the previous book, A Book of Scars sees our erstwhile hero detective Cathal Breen taking an enforced spell of R&R at the family farm in Devon of his feisty former police colleague Helen Tozer, who has recently left the Met. Inevitably though, the long shadow cast by the unsolved murder of Tozer’s sister, Alexandra, five years previously, comes back to haunt them in this much darker instalment of William Shaw’s superb 1960’s set series. As the book opens in the closing year of this influential and tumultuous decade, Breen and Tozer have many obstacles, both personal and professional, to overcome to solve this perplexing murder, which leads to others, and to lay the ghosts of the past to rest.

Even if this is your first foray into Shaw’s series, you will soon catch up with the highs and lows of Breen and Tozer’s relationship, accrued through their previous cases, and their frustrating personal relationship. Endeavouring to avoid spoilers, I will simply say that events move on apace, and there is more than one surprise in store for the hapless Breen on the emotional front, as he becomes inveigled in Tozer’s personal strife with the murder of her sister, and the maelstrom of emotions that arise in the wake of this. The ups and downs of their relationship, with Breen being slightly more introverted, and Tozer a real speak-as-you-find kinda gal, makes for an entertaining, yet emotionally tense partnership, and the interplay between their very different investigative styles is as accomplished as in previous books. Breen is methodical, courteous and focussed, but Tozer rather less so, with her tough-as-nails demeanour accrued by living in the shadow of her lost sister, and her forthright decision to join the police, in an era where women were only just making their mark in the force, and barely tolerated in this bastion of masculinity. Hence, throughout the course of the book, there are some lovely incidents of Tozer going all heart of darkness, and Breen attempting to pick up the pieces. However, this is unerringly balanced by how Shaw writes both characters with a real sense of tenderness and poignancy when the need arises, and he doesn’t shy away from putting their individual frailties up for scrutiny. So, for my money, easily one of the most entertaining investigative duos in the world of crime fiction.

As with the previous books, Shaw’s attention to the sights, sounds and socio-political detail of the period never falters. With perfectly placed references to products, fashion, drugs and music interspersed seemingly casually throughout, Shaw firmly roots us in the decade, and as Breen and Tozer dig deeper into Alexandra’s murder, Shaw also goes global, weaving in the uncompromising violence that was brought to the world’s attention through the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in the 60’s. Using the less than honourable exploits of some of Breen and Tozer’s suspects, during their residence in Kenya, Shaw reveals a well-researched, and eye-opening account of these events in Africa, whilst seamlessly incorporating them into the central plot of the novel. This dark diversion added another real layer of interest to the book, and an unflinching portrayal of this age of revolt, revolution and political corruption. Equally, Shaw leads us off the beaten path several times during the course of our intrepid duo’s investigation, to neatly conceal the perpetrator of Alexandra’s murder and the related deaths that occur as the plot progresses.

As much as I enjoyed the first two books, I think this one resonated more strongly with me, purely because of the emotional intensity that Shaw has injected into A Book of Scars. Not only in the sphere of personal relationships and the reverberation of murder on a family, but also by the inclusion of the dramatic and violent events spawned by the Kenyan uprising. Reading this in a contemporary age, the book gains an added gravitas as we see the events of the past not just in a vacuum, and you read this with a horrible feeling of us not having learnt anything at all in terms of global conflict. However, this more serious side to the book is tempered by Shaw’s lively depiction of his central protagonists (who sometimes you just want to give a good shake) and beautifully placed moments of teasing humour, that lighten the darker corners of the book. A fitting end to a trilogy, or is it, as there’s more than a whiff of a cliffhanger on the closing page….. Good. More please.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

The Touched Blog Tour- Guest Post- Joanna Briscoe

 

Joanna BriscoeRaven Crime Reads is pleased to welcome Joanna Briscoe , whose latest novella Touched is out now.  Joanna is the author of Mothers and Other Lovers, Skin and the highly acclaimed Sleep with Me which was published in ten countries and adapted for television.

With her new book,  Touched, Joanna has produced an unsettling and gripping tale set in a small rural community in the 1960’s. Rowena Crale and her family have recently moved into an old house in a small English village. But the house appears to be resisting all attempts at renovation. Walls ooze damp. Stains come through layers of wallpaper. Ceilings sag. And strange noises – voices – emanate from empty rooms. As Rowena struggles with the upheaval of builders while trying to be a dutiful wife to her husband and a good mother to her five small children, her life starts to disintegrate. And then her eldest and prettiest daughter goes missing. Out in the village, a frantic search is mounted – while inside the house reveals its darkest secret: a hidden room with no windows and no obvious entrance. Boarded up, it smells of old food, disinfectant – and death…

Here’s Joanna to tell us more…

JoannaBriscoe_jalden“While I was writing my fifth novel, Touched – a story with a paranormal aspect commissioned by Hammer Books – one of the elements that most fascinated me was that the humans became nastier and the unexplained presences more benign as the novel progressed.

I hadn’t planned for it to work out that way, but though the reader’s tense focus remains on unexplained smells, stains, faces half seen at windows, and an ‘imaginary friend’, what’s really going on beneath that surreal, supernatural surface is that the living, breathing humans are wreaking havoc. The criminals of the piece are the Pollards, a benign seeming couple who undoubtedly do a lot of good and are much loved, but who think they can behave outside the law.

I also set the novel in 1963, when Britain was in time warp of 1950s culture, and when children were still allowed to roam the countryside. My younger characters are allowed a freedom and independence that only a ‘neglected’ child would be granted today, and so there is space and opportunity for dark acts.

The supposedly perfect Hertfordshire village of Crowsley Beck, with its bright grass green, its pretty children and lovely cottages is the setting, and again, I wanted to explore what happens beneath the surface of such an ideal place. The novel deals with physical beauty in terms of both place and person. One of the children, Jennifer, is spectacularly beautiful, but it is that very beauty that provides her downfall.

The crossover of crime and the supernatural was an interesting one for me as a writer. While the spectral suggestions play on minds – or are created by those minds themselves – the real criminals play with actual human lives, with disastrous consequences. Beauty is power, but it can also mean that people lace their frustrated fascination with punishment, with possession, and warp its innocence. Writing Touched made me plunge into some of the darker recesses of my mind and come up with events that surprised me….”

Touched by Joanna Briscoe, published by Hammer, is now out in paperback. To find out more visit Joanna Briscoe’s website at www.joannabriscoe.com . Follow her on Twitter @JoannaBriscoe

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour-Guest Post- David Baldacci + Giveaway- The Escape

daveTo celebrate the launch of David Baldacci’s latest novel, The Escape, as well as the paperback publication of his fourth Will Robie novel, The Target,  I am  pleased to welcome the author to Raven Crime Reads as part of his blog tour. In this special blog post David discusses the roles of heroes and villains in his writing…

“For a writer who didn’t start out crafting thrillers, I have certainly written a lot of them. And they’re fun and fast and people seem to really love them. But along the way I’ve tried my hand at other genres and enjoyed them all. Whether it be a family drama, a light-hearted mystery on a train over Christmas or a YA fantasy title, for me the story is the thing. If you keep doing the same thing over and over, you’ll get the same result. That’s why I strive mightily to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to do things differently. I like to create different series with very diverse characters inhabiting each, to throw off complacency by tackling subject matters that force me to go out and learn, and then write, about a totally new world. Fear is a great antidote to complacency and fear is a great thing for a writer. Otherwise, you become formulaic.

I think readers enjoy crime fiction for a variety of reasons, aside from the obvious fact that it tends to be exciting and fast-paced. As children we loved (and hated) to be scared by the boogeyman. We wanted to look under the bed or in the dark closet, but at the same time we were terrified to do so. Adults retain this childlike wonder about being scared. We like to be scared from a safe distance, and that’s what crime fiction provides. It also allows readers to root for heroes, which we always need, both in real life and between the pages. And it allows us to root against, even if we find them curiously fascinating, the villains. After this battle is concluded and one side (usually good) wins out, we have closure, which people also like, but sometimes, maybe oftentimes, do not find in real life.

In that way, a good crime story can be perfect for what ails us!

Among my favorite villains in my own books is Jackson from The Winner. That book is fifteen years old and I still get fan letters asking if Jackson is going to come back. Chung-Cha from The Target was probably the most sympathetic villain I ever created. Sam Quarry from First Family is a close second on that score. I tend to favor villains who live in the gray area, doing the wrong thing for what they believe are the right reasons. Knights in shining armor are scarce if even nonexistent. Good people do bad things for what they believe are the right reasons. Robie and Reel are prime examples of that. Conversely, villains who are simply purely evil are boring. The gray in life is what fascinates me.”

David Baldacci is a worldwide bestselling novelist. With his books published in over 45 different languages and in more than 80 countries, and with over 110 million copies in print, he is one of the world’s favourite storytellers. David is also the co-founder, along with his wife, of the Wish You Well Foundation, a non-profit organization, dedicated to eliminating illiteracy across America. Visit his website here .

GIVEAWAY

Military CID investigator John Puller has returned from his latest case to learn that his brother, Robert, once a major in the United States Air Force and an expert in nuclear weaponry and cyber-security, has escaped from the Army’s most secure prison. Preliminary investigations show that Robert – convicted of treason – may have had help in his breakout. Now he’s on the run, and he’s the military’s number one target.John Puller has a dilemma. Which comes first: loyalty to his country, or to his brother? Blood is thicker than water, but Robert has state secrets which certain people will kill for. John does not know for sure the true nature of Robert’s crimes, nor if he’s even guilty. It quickly becomes clear, however, that his brother’s responsibilities were powerful and far-reaching.With the help of US intelligence officer Veronica Knox, both brothers move closer to the truth from their opposing directions. As the case begins to force John Puller into a place he thought he’d never be – on the other side of the law – even his skills as an investigator, and his strength as a warrior, might not be enough to save him. Or his brother…

I have a copy of The Escape  up for grabs as an early Christmas gift! For a chance to win just head over to Twitter and tweet me @ravencrime with the message ‘Escape with Baldacci’ and I will randomly select one lucky winner. The closing date is 3rd December and giveaway open to UK entrants only. Good luck!

 

An Interview With Dwayne Alexander Smith- Forty Acres

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To mark the paperback release of Forty Acres in the UK, Raven Crime Reads is delighted to bring you an exclusive Q&A with the book’s author, Dwayne Alexander Smith. As my review below testifies, this was one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read for some time, and effortlessly rises above the simplistic tag of ‘crime novel’ to something far more intense and compelling, reminiscent of the very best of American contemporary fiction. Read on to find out more about Smith’s motivation as a writer and his plans for the future… 

When did you take the plunge, and first start to write this (Forty Acres) as a novel?

10faf7da8cbb005084bd1d086e119954About four years ago I figured out that Forty Acres wouldn’t work as a screenplay. Well, my manager and agent helped me figure it out. They didn’t think that the idea was sellable as a screenplay. I loved the concept so much that I decided to do something that, up until that point, I hadn’t tried before, write a novel.

How different was the process for you to your day job, as a screenwriter?

Very different. I’ve worked as a screenwriter since 2001. I feel very comfortable writing screenplays. I was out of my element when it came to writing a novel. I approached the problem by reading lots of thrillers that were similar to what I wanted Forty Acres to feel. I also began writing lots of test chapters then giving them to my friends for feedback. Once I felt that I had captured the right pacing and voice, I began writing the novel in earnest.

The central conceit of the novel is so strong – so simple and bold – any idea or memory as to what it was that first triggered the idea for you?

Growing up in the Bronx, I used to spend a lot of time hanging out with my friends on the street, just talking and goofing around. One conversation I remembered was about how we would have fought back and kicked ass if someone tried to make us slaves. Later, when I began writing professionally I wanted to create a story that involved a modern black man who, by the means of time travel, is thrust into slavery in the past. So, Forty Acres really started as a science fiction story. Once I began trying to work out the plot the story slowly evolved into what it is today.

Do you think crime and thriller writers should aspire to tackle serious contemporary themes in their work?

Yes. I believe that the more relatable a story is the more gripping it will be for the reader. There’s nothing wrong with stories about super spies trying to stop super villains, but most people are completely removed from that world. The conflicts encountered by the protagonists in that sort of thriller have very little to do with real life. But a story grounded in real everyday issues has the potential to grab the reader on a gut level. They become a lot more involved because the issues confronted in the book are issues they deal with everyday.

It seems like you must have had a lot of fun writing the characters of Dr Kasim and Oscar, did you have any literary models (or film actors) in mind when you wrote them?

I could vividly picture the characters in my mind but I did not cast them with real actors, which is a technique that I often used in screenwriting. My favorite characters to write were Dr. Kasim and Carver. I really enjoy writing villains, especially smart villains. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me because when I read and watch thrillers, I often find myself rooting for the villain. I would love to write a story someday in which the villain wins. In real life villains win sometimes, why not in fiction.

And talking of villains, do you think we may see something more of ‘The Handyman’ someday?

Absolutely. I have a sequel to Forty Acres all figured out. So, if I ever have an opportunity to write it, the Handyman will play a key role.

What novel do you remember first really getting inside your head?

My influences are wildly varied. As a kid I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Then I went through a phase of reading horror, then the classics. I guess the novel that touched me the most is Huckleberry Finn. While reading it I experience a wide range of emotions. That book made me laugh and cry and get angry. Just thinking about certain scenes in that book makes me tear up.

And you must have a favourite movie, or two?

I have loads of favorite movies. The list includes lots of Hitchcock and Spielberg movies. At the top of the list are movies like Shane, Rocky, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, West Side Story. Again, wildly varied.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Mark Twain, Stephen King, Nikola Tesla, Hitchcock, Muhammad Ali, Oprah, and John Williams.

And finally, what advice would you give to any young, unpublished thriller writers?

I meet aspiring writers all the time and I’m surprised by how few outline their work. When I ask about outlining I often hear things like, “well, I write out the beats but it’s not very detailed.”

I don’t get this. Well, actually I do. They are eager to start writing the book so they just jump in without a solid plan. Unless you’re a storytelling genius, I think this is a BIG mistake. When I decided to write Forty Acres I sat down and planned every chapter of the book. I figured out every moment. My outline even included some dialogue. For me all the hard work is done in the outlining. I apply the same methods to writing a screenplay. Because thrillers often have twisty plots, having a detailed outline is even more important. So, if you’re planning to write a thriller my advice would be to take a professional approach and plan every detail first. When you finally get to writing prose, you can stray from the blueprint now and then, some characters will demand it, but the outline will get you back on track.

Raven’s review:

10faf7da8cbb005084bd1d086e119954Martin Grey, a smart, talented. young lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, is taken under the wing of a secretive group made up of America’s most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men. He’s dazzled by what they have accomplished, and they seem to think he has the potential to be one of them They invite him for a weekend away from it all – no wives, no cell phones, no talk of business. But what he discovers, far from home, is a disturbing alternative reality which challenges his deepest convictions…

Although not ostensibly classified as a crime book, I was very keen to include this title as I believe that there are enough elements to fulfil the best of both genres; crime thriller and contemporary American fiction. Drawing on the theme of the continuing calls in present day America for some kind of reparation for the heinous period of American slavery, and the resonance of the falsely promised ‘forty acres and a mule’ for the emancipated slaves, Smith has constructed one of the most thought-provoking novels, with all the essential elements of a thriller, that it has been my pleasure to read for some time.

Martin Grey, a small time African American lawyer, wins a distinctly high profile court case up against a powerful and media savvy prosecution lawyer, Damon Darrell, finds himself quickly, yet mysteriously enfolded into Darrell’s immediate circle. This circle contains a small cabal of some of the most influential and successful black figures in society, and Martin, basking in the honour of being made an intimate of such a group, quickly forms an allegiance with them, despite certain misgivings when called upon to perform a strange act of initiation. Grey is then invited on a weekend of outdoor pursuits; a previous weekend of which resulted in the less than fully explained death of a former member of the group. As Martin witnesses the strange and disturbing events at the weekend retreat of ‘Forty Acres’, we, along with him, begin to bear witness to the twisted and insidiously violent events within its walls, all in the name of seeking vengeance for the sins of America’s past. Through the attempted manipulation of Martin by the cabal, and his refusal to simply see the issues raised in black and white (his name is Grey after all), he finds his highly developed moral barometer is increasingly threatened both mentally and physically…

This is not an easy read, being at times brutal and uncompromising in some of its more violent scenes. There is also an incredibly surprising and shocking reveal, as to the activities that take place within the grounds of the mysterious ‘Forty Acres’, that really pushes the morality issue to the fore. It is also a book that throws up a series of extremely troubling moral and ethical dilemmas, but at the same time steadfastly reminding the reader of the immoral period of slavery and the repercussions of this for generations of black Americans. I think this is most certainly a book that will leave readers with differing opinions and perceptions, and reading this as a white British person (with our own shady involvement in the slavery period) I would be interested to see how say, a white American or African American would perceive the issues raised. There were certainly periods of the book that challenged my own moral sense, and by taking some arguments to the most extreme degree, I found my views were increasingly in line with Martin’s as the book progressed. I think that the book was powerfully effective in highlighting the dangers of extreme beliefs whether they be affiliated with race, gender or religion, but equally how persecution of a particular group of exploited people is so easily ignored and not punished and can resonate through generations.

Smith keeps a tight rein on the build up of tension throughout, slowly accelerating the pace until the breathless denouement with Martin, and those closest to him, in imminent peril, so this more than qualifies the book as a compelling thriller. More importantly though, although not a comfortable read, the book consistently raises interesting and thorny issues in both its narrative and themes. I always enjoy books that challenge the complacency of any reader, and Forty Acres certainly achieves this. If, like me, you want a book that gets you talking, and results in differences of opinion, than this is certainly the book for you. I guarantee it will make you think, and stay in your head some time after you’ve read it. That’s the sign of a good book. Forty Acres more than fits the bill.

(Forty Acres is published by Faber & Faber and thanks again to Sophie Portas for the ARC)

Blog Tour-Kevin Sampson- Guest Post- The House On The Hill Review

 

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Marking the publication of The House On The Hill- the second in Kevin Sampson’s new crime series to feature DCI Billy McCartney- Raven Crime Reads is delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the release. Having previously reviewed the first in the series, The Killing Pool , and having just read this new one (reviewed below), I’m sure that you will not only enjoy Kevin’s piece posted here about his multi-faceted character, the mercurial Billy McCartney, but will be more than keen to seek this series out for yourselves too! So with no further ado it’s over to Kevin..

On DCI Billy McCartney

“My concept for the McCartney series was that Billy should be as complex and as much of an enigma as any of the cases he works on. I had (and have) in mind an initial 5 novels, with each instalment revealing a little more about Mac. Only once we’ve digested and understood all 5 ‘episodes’ will the full picture emerge. Until that point, it’s a process of putting all the tiny clues together as we try to get a sense of who Billy McCartney really is.

Having said that, I had a very clear notion of McCartney, his history and what drives him on, right from the start. Mac’s persona is absolutely central to each case, and the way he goes about solving it. He is defined by his own experience, and by his own distinctive morality. Mac perceives himself more as an old-time Lawman than a sophisticated modern detective. He regularly refers to himself putting on ‘the cape’ or ‘the mask’, and these nuances shine a light on Mac’s idiosyncratic approach to the job. He’s the Lone Ranger, dressed in white, chasing the lawless baddies out of town; making it safe for ordinary decent folk. Above all, he wants to make the streets safe for women.

McCartney’s very specific worldview is both informed and challenged by his perception of women. Again, there is something of the old-fashioned hero in him, racing to aid the damsel in distress. In The Killing Pool Mac risks everything in his determination to find and rescue the young runaway, Misha. And in his latest case, The House On The Hill, his obsession with a murdered colleague, DS Millie Baker, drives him beyond the rational remit of the job. He’s in Morocco to infiltrate a major hashish production gang high in the Rif mountains, but it’s the recurring flashbacks about the circumstances of Millie’s death that haunt Mac and spur him on.

Yet McCartney himself is anything but a traditional square-jawed knight in shining armour. He never, ever gets the girl. There is a loneliness that eats away at Mac – a resignation that “for McCartney, it always ends this way.” This, in turn, informs his solitary approach to his work. All too often, Mac’s fairy tales morph into nightmares, and it’s his seeming inability to find love that recurs in his moments of reflection. His consolation is that, through his diligent and often brilliant detective work, he makes the city a safer place to live. As a child he witnessed his own father being shot by armed robbers. If he can prevent other kids going through similar trauma, it has been a Good Day for McCartney.

DCI Billy McCartney presented himself to me well-defined but not quite fully formed. Just as with real people in real life, he is a work in progress, growing and changing as he reacts to different challenges. I have a pretty good idea who he really is. By the end of the fifth book we’ll know for sure. For now though, enjoy more clues about Mac in The House On The Hill.”

 

kevKevin Sampson began his writing career reviewing bands for NME. Based in Liverpool, he wrote about gangs and subcultures for The Face, I-D, and Arena. A lifelong fascination with the criminal underworld, led to Sampson’s Liverpool-set crime novels, Outlaws and Clubland, and his debut film Surveillance. Outlaws was also made as a feature film titled The Crew. Sampson is the author of eight novels and one work of non-fiction. The Killing Pool was the first in the series of the Billy McCartney novels, with a TV adaptation just announced here  Follow him on Twitter @ksampsonwriter.

 

Raven’s Review

9780224097178-largeDCI Billy McCartney has gone to ground, disillusioned with his job. When a runaway turns up on his doorstep, her story plunges Mac back to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases. McCartney and his partner DS Millie Baker are in Ibiza, on a joint venture with the Spanish serious crime agency. Their objective: to infiltrate the Liverpool-based drug gang responsible for a wave of ecstasy-related deaths. But their stakeout takes both Mac and Millie to the heart of a dark empire whose tentacles stretch from Ireland to Morocco, and whose activities include industrial-scale drug production – and terrorism. They’re close to their big bust when Millie is abducted by the gang, and killed. McCartney never quite recovers from it. The waif who knocks on Mac’s door twenty-four years later has escaped from those same captors; a dynasty of international dope dealers based high in the Moroccan Rif. What she tells McCartney blasts his apathy away, and sends him on a mission that goes far beyond law and order. This is his chance for redemption.

The House On The Hill is the second in the DCI Billy McCartney series following the excellent opener The Killing Pool (which I waxed lyrical about last year) and can easily be read as a standalone. This new book sees Mac gone to ground, disillusioned with his job, but fate has a surprise a store for him when a young runaway turns up on his doorstep. The tale she has to tell plunges Mac back in time to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases, both professionally and personally. The trail she sets him on, takes him and the reader back to the investigation rooted in the 90’s club scene in Ibiza, to his present day pursuit of a drug dynasty in the hills of Marrakech, where extreme danger awaits…

I would say from the outset that what Sampson achieves with ease, both in this and his novels to date, is the ability to so quickly make us so comfortable with the characters he lays before us. Even if you have not read the first book which established the depths and quirks of DCI Billy McCartney’s character, I guarantee that you will take to him, and his rough charm from the earliest beginnings of the book. In this character, Sampson has conjured up a man of sublime contradictions. He has an easy manner, flecked with humour and a cynical eye, but equally is a man haunted by events in his own childhood, and in his professional career as a police officer. Although he is to all intents and purposes a bit of a rough diamond, the wrongs he has born witness to, particularly in the historical case in Ibiza which proceeds the contemporary investigation, has affected him greatly on an emotional level. Both cases call on him to be somewhat of a knight in shining armour, but on a more basic level, are driven by his pure ambition to right the wrongs of the past, and assuage his own sense of guilt. He has a strong moral core, despite his tough guy attitude, and even when up to his armpits in danger retains this outward strength, but is man enough to confess to his inward fear. He is gallant when the female of the species is involved, but our hearts go out to him, as in the true spirit of the moral defender, he is destined to carry a sense of loneliness and isolation about him.

Equally, Sampson roundly characterises the surrounding protagonists in the book, good guys and bad guys alike, in a realistic and vital way. There are some truly horrible antagonists involved in Mac’s investigations, like drug dealer JJ Hamilton, whose nefarious dealings with the equally hideous drug lord Hassan El Glaoui, a particularly cruel and violent individual, lies at the root of Mac’s troubles. These two men are greedy, ambitious and unrelenting in their manipulation and abuse of others (in particular women) to keep a stranglehold on the drug trail they control. Also, amongst Mac’s police counterparts at home and abroad, over the course of the two cases, there is a nice mix between the good, the bad and the ugly, and of course Al Glauoi’s and Hamilton’s henchmen are carved out in true pantomime baddie style. Boo. Hiss. On a slightly lighter note, I particularly enjoyed the characterisation of the young and in a lot of ways naïve, Yasmina, the runaway who comes to Mac with her personal tale of woe. To avoid plot spoilers, I won’t divulge how she is connected to him, but her resilience (when pursued by the bad guys), balanced with her heart-warming incidental journey to a grand love affair with the spiky, and thoroughly entertaining kick ass Jessica, is a joy.

The dual timelines are powerfully and realistically presented, from the atmosphere of the heyday of Ibiza, underscored with some real trip back in time references to the essential music of this period, and the very unique and sensual casting of Morocco, leading to the breathless denouement. Sampson’s attention to location is one of the real strengths of the book, so much so that the contrasting landscapes he portrays, seem to take on the role of a character in themselves. I found the descriptions of El Glaoui’s hillside hideaway, particularly cinematic, and the events that transpire in its locale, added to the foreboding atmosphere it imparted in the book. The plot is perfectly controlled, with neither half on the dual narrative, weakened by the other, fuelled by tension and danger in equal measure. In common with The Killing Pool, Sampson does not hold back on the more sordid details of the piece, to unsettle us throughout, but like the first book, I rather enjoyed the more grubby and violent aspects of the plot, which further involved me emotionally in this theatre of danger Mac finds himself embroiled in. All in all a terrific follow up to the first book, and if this is only book two of a planned five book series, I cannot wait to see what Mac gets up to next. Bring it on…

 

BLOG TOUR IN FULL:

August 7th  DEAD GOOD BOOKS

August 8th RAVEN CRIME READS

August 9th SHAZ’S BOOK BLOG 

August 10th CRIMETIME

August 11th READER DAD

August 12th THE CRIME WARP

(With thanks to Jonathan Cape for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

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