Blog Tour- Exclusive Guest Post- Simon Toyne- ‘Solomon Creed Meet Leo’

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A big Hollywood extravaganza welcome to you all for day two of the Simon Toyne Blog Tour, celebrating the release of his gripping new thriller Solomon Creed. The Raven is particularly delighted to host an exclusive guest post by an author with stars in his eyes. Possibly. As long as Leonardo hasn’t heard about Cleethorpes…

“So this is how it happened.

Agent: ‘Leonardo DiCaprio wants to option Solomon Creed.’

Me: You’re kidding.’

Agent: ‘I am so not kidding.’

Me: ‘Leonardo DiCaprio?’

Agent: ‘Yes.’

Me: (long pause)

Agent: ‘He’s an actor.’

Me: ‘I know who he is.’

This is, more or less, what happened to me a couple of months ago.

41OgxOimpgL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I was standing in my living room, staring out of the window at the garden and trying to reconcile the utter domestic ordinariness of my situation with the words I was hearing. I felt sure my agent was about to crack up and say ‘only kidding!’, only my agent doesn’t do stuff like that, she’s very professional and not generally prone to Jackass style japery- so it had to be real. Except it couldn’t be. I was born in Cleethorpes. Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t option books written by people from Cleethorpes. It just doesn’t happen.

After that initial, surreal phone-call it all went quiet for several loooong months while a contract was drawn up, argued over, re-drawn, argued over again and eventually signed. In all that time I carried the news around like a hot coal, desperate to show it to people, blow on it and say ‘look how it glows’ but instead I had to hold it tight in my hand, feeling the keen burn of it while pretending I wasn’t holding anything at all.

This became particularly frustrating in the run-up to publication, exactly the time you want to shine the brightest light you can at your book and say ‘look at this one, look at mine, someone really famous thinks it’s good, you need to buy this book and read it before Hollywood ruins it,’ but I couldn’t. I tried to tell myself that it wouldn’t happen, that something would go wrong, and that Hollywood does indeed ruin most books anyway so I was better off out of it. I even started working on an anecdote of how Leonardo Di Caprio ‘nearly’ optioned Solomon Creed, wondering if I could actually get a bit of mileage out of that instead, trying to phrase it in such a way that it didn’t end up sounding like my book had been considered and then ultimately rejected. But I never did quite the wording right in my head.

 

Green-Hollywood-Sign-Green-CelebritiesBut now the deal is done, or as done as it ever can be in Hollywood terms, and I can finally show you the red hot thing I’ve been carrying around all this time. The pragmatic side of me still knows that an option is just an option, and that Leonardo DiCaprio may change his mind, and that the option will elapse in a year’s time anyway (and that Hollywood tends to ruin books anyway). But that same voice is also whispering to me another truth now, and that is that books written by people from Cleethorpes don’t get optioned by A-list Hollywood superstars. So who knows. Stranger things have already happened.”

 

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Don’t forget to follow the rest of tour and find out more about the mysterious

Solomon Creed…

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Jax Miller- Freedom’s Child

Call me what you will: a murderer, a cop killer, a fugitive, a drunk…

There’s a lot people don’t know about Freedom Oliver. They know she works at the local bar. They know she likes a drink or two. What they don’t know is that Freedom is not her real name. That she has spent the last eighteen years living under Witness Protection, after being arrested for her husband’s murder. They don’t know that she put her two children up for adoption, a decision that haunts her every day. Then Freedom’s daughter goes missing, and everything changes. Determined to find her, Freedom slips her handlers and heads to Kentucky where her kids were raised. No longer protected by the government, she is tracked by her husband’s sadistic family, who are thirsty for revenge. But as she gets closer to the truth, Freedom faces an even more dangerous threat. She just doesn’t know it yet…

Every so often a crime thriller debut comes along with an understated but powerful writing style that fair knocks you off your feet. Freedom’s Child is one such book, and in deference to the general acclaim this book is receiving across the book world, I can only agree with the general trend of overwhelmingly positive reviews it is deservedly attracting…

Focusing on the damaged, and utterly compelling character of Freedom Oliver, many reviewers have been quick to draw comparisons with Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. However, I firmly believe that Freedom, although shaped and emotionally damaged by past events in her life, represents an altogether more powerful credibility as a strong female character. Her whole outwardly hard drinking, feisty and kick ass demeanour, belies her very real emotional frailty, not assuaged by any evidence of intellectual or technological genius as evinced by Salander. Instead, she is completely driven by the overwhelming maternal instinct, caused by the separation of herself from her children, and the sheer determination to atone for, and rescue them from, the repercussions of the violence her actions have given rise to. Throughout the book Miller carefully maintains these two contrasting aspects of her character, where Freedom attempts to shut down emotional engagement and tolerance of others, seemingly on the road to self-destruction, but with the reader always being aware of the fire that burns deep within her driven by her lost role as a mother and the emotional focus this gives her. Her un-mailed letters to her two lost children are particularly heart-wrenching. The characterisation that Miller ascribes to her is as disturbing as it is poignant, and equally how every other character’s actions is so influenced by, or attuned to our mercurial heroine. Her interplay with, and reactions to, those that would help or hinder her keep her in sharp focus throughout, and in her Miller has created a multi-faceted and completely mesmerising central character.

By weaving in the issue of religious fundamentalism, and the focus of the destructive patriarchy of cult leaders, alongside some pretty abhorrent figures from Freedom’s ill-judged marriage, Miller has plenty of ammunition to spray on the evil deeds of men. Freedom’s past experiences, and the current collision course she finds herself on, have been shaped comprehensively by the thoughts, opinions and fists of some pretty despicable men. As disturbed as I was by the truly horrific male specimens that Miller serves up to us, I appreciated her unflinching characterisation of them, as difficult as it was to read at times. However, to balance the score, Miller does ascribe a modicum of decency to both Freedom’s son, Mason, her brother-in-law Peter, and Freedom’s would-be protector, police officer James Mattley, and these three characters will resonate strongly with most readers, as both emotive and engaging characters.

Equally, Miller has a laconic, lean and incredibly rhythmical cadence to the writing style, that is on a par with some of the best writers in contemporary American fiction- Daniel Woodrell, Denis Johnson, and Willy Vlautin spring to mind. The use of a certain amount of rhythmical repetition carries the reader along, and really embeds the voice of Freedom in the reader’s consciousness. Likewise, the visual depiction of something as rough and ready as a biker bar, is counterbalanced by some truly beautiful descriptions of the sprawling landscapes and highways that Freedom travels on her mercy mission, retaining the sense of authenticity that Miller demonstrates throughout her writing.

This book has haunted me since reading it, and as a reader and a bookseller, it is always something special to be so affected by, and witness to, a powerful new voice in fiction. Quite possibly will be my book of the year. Terrific.

 

Michael Robotham- Life Or Death

25484031Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of the gang. Seven million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is. For ten years he has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened almost daily by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he’s due to be released. Everybody wants to find Audie, but he’s not running. Instead he’s trying to save a life . . . and not just his own.

Billed as a cross between The Shawshank Redemption and No Country For Old Men, Life Or Death has been dubbed by Michael Robotham himself as the book he always meant to write. In all fairness, I would say that this is a book that all crime fiction lovers were meant to read. I have absolutely no qualms in stating that this is one of my absolute stand-out reads of the year so far, and here’s why…

From the very outset, Robotham firmly ensconces us in the world of Audie Palmer, a man on the brink of release from prison who stages an escape the night before his legitimate release. Immediately you are thinking why. Why would you do that? And take it from me, the journey to us discovering the reasons for this is a taut, compelling and dangerous one for us and Audie both. Pursued by both law enforcement, and a fellow prisoner granted an early release to track Audie down, Robotham takes us on nerve shredding yet beautifully paced story, revealing piece by piece the details of the cause of Audie’s incarceration, and his desperate dash for freedom. As he seeks to atone and deliver justice for the violent events of the past, Robotham immerses us in a world of corrupt officialdom who will stop at nothing to silence him…

With some degree of boldness I will say that although this crime novel strays to beyond 500 pages, there is not a single word wasted or scene out of place. I was enraptured from the outset by the vividness of the language, and the natural cadence of the American voice that shone throughout the book. Sometimes, when crime authors are locating their books in a non-native country to themselves, the voices do not so keenly demonstrate the natural rhythms and patterns of dialogue that they are seeking to represent. Robotham has done his homework well, as the natural ebb and flow of the Texan vernacular is keenly resonant throughout the book. Equally, the characterisation of all the main players is beautifully weighted throughout, so that characters that initially appear bad to the bone, are not truly so, as the demands of their public persona are starkly at odds with the depth of emotion, self-preservation and their fundamental human need to protect those closest to them. This is clearly in evidence in both Audie Palmer and law enforcement officer Ryan Valdez, who embark on a violent game of cat and mouse as the book progresses. Both men are imbued with their own sense of honour, sometimes twisted, that drives them to achieve retribution on the other for reasons I will not spoil here. I also loved Special Agent Desiree Furness, a pint-sized powerhouse of feistiness who endlessly strives to overcome both her gender and small stature within the masculine confines of the FBI. She adds not only an interesting counterbalance to the struggle between Audie and Valdez, but also affords Robotham to add some lighter moments to the book.

The slow reveal of Audie’s grand passion with the haunted and beautiful Belita is so poignantly and delicately portrayed, when taken in tandem with the more violent and disturbing aspects of the book, giving wonderful shades of light and dark throughout. Robotham plays with our empathy, and skilfully manipulates our perception of the characters, in a way that I have only rarely witnessed in crime fiction outside of those American crime writers that walk the line between crime writing and contemporary fiction. This along with the beautifully weighted and shifting timeline of the central plot, cannot help but hold you enthralled as the reveal of what has happened in the past gathers momentum to manipulate and taint the events in the present as Audie and Valdez hurtle towards a final showdown.

Although I have been a fan of Robotham’s for many years, as he is a consistently enjoyable crime writer, I was more than taken aback at this change of style, and if I had read this blind, would never have picked him as the author. Consequently, this has increased his stature even more, as this book demonstrates his true flexibility and skill as a writer, and has impressed me greatly, no mean feat in itself! A terrific book and executed quite beautifully. I am now emotionally spent…

Visit Michael Robotham’s website here Follow him on Twitter @michaelrobotham

(With thanks to Little Brown UK for the ARC)