Friday, 29 January 2016

He's DEAD PRETTY - A Q&A with David Mark

Today I am fortunate enough to be hosting a Q&A with crime writer David Mark. David is the creator of Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy, and has written four previous novels in the series. David worked as journalist for 15 years, seven of those years as a crime reporter. I pinned him down (not literally) to find out about his road to publication, and whether all those years writing about real-life criminals inspired him.


How torturous was your road to publication? I know mine was paved with tears and tantrums – was it all plain sailing or did you have a meltdown or two?

My family refer to it as the decade of misery and that may not be too far from the truth. Of course, they only put up with it for a decade – I had 33 years of banging my head against a wall trying to be the person I felt destined to become.  From the age of about five, my whole life was about stories. Throughout my life I have felt compelled to be one thing and one thing only – a novelist. But as we all see from X-Factor, just because you really, really want to be something, it doesn’t mean you’re any good at it. I found that out the hard way – spending my twenties sending off endless manuscripts about depressed, bleak-souled journalists stumbling blindly through a miasma of whisky and sin (it’s important to write what you know). The books may have been well drawn but they were miserable as hell to read and that was why I didn’t get an agent or a deal for years – even though I felt sure I was the victim of a conspiracy at the time.  It all went right for me about five years back when I amicably parted ways with my then agent and buddied up with Oli Munson. By then I was a bit more savvy about the business and had started writing for the reader rather than for myself and the book we were hawking had more light at its heart than anything I’d written - even if it was still darker than the inside of a pig. Within a fortnight of signing with Oli, a load of different publishing houses were competing for the rights and after that everything went a bit mental. I still haven’t quite come to terms with it all.

What made you move on from the exciting world of crime journalism into novel writing – did it just seem like a natural progression?

I only wanted to be a journalist because it was within kissing distance of writing books and it seemed like something I could do while waiting for my dreams to come true. Unfortunately I spent 15 years doing it! But those years gave me the experiences I needed in order to write the kind of books that I felt I should be writing. If I’d never been a journalist I could never write crime fiction or any other kind of fiction for that matter. I had to meet a lot of people and get close to them; to understand people and find out how they were wired. I still do that to this day and it’s crucial if you want to write rounded, believable characters.

What’s the highlight of your career as a published author to date? Surely Richard and Judy must feature quite highly?!

That was pretty amazing, especially given that it was my first book. In truth, it was being picked by Val McDermid as somebody with the potential to go far – I felt like I had been tickled behind the ear by the queen.

My tip for new writers would be to just keep on keeping on – write every day and never give up – do you have any words of wisdom that you can pass on to aspiring writers?

Bloody good advice! You can’t moan about not being a writer if you don’t write. And give yourself time – nobody’s perfect straight away and this whole business is about opinion. Read a lot, try not to steal anybody else’s ideas and try not to self-publish until you’ve exhausted all other options. Above all, think of life as material. View the world through the filter of a writer and absorb the interesting bits every day.

Where did your first novel come from? Was it inspired by anything in particular (Like something HUGELY exciting that you witnessed in your career?)?

The central idea for my first book, Dark Winter, involved somebody bumping off the sole survivors of various atrocities. I used to work in a nasty little regional newspaper office in central Hull and there was a framed front page hanging in the wall about the only man who escaped the triple trawler tragedy of 1968. Perhaps it started there. It just kind of came to me but there is a big different between an idea for a book, and a book. Turning one Post-it note of scribbles into 100,000 words is where the hard work starts.

How did you know that your first book was THE ONE – I know that I suffered huge, monster sized doubts about my novel before I sent it out, but deep down I DID believe that it was THE ONE – Did you feel the same?

McAvoy helped. Before that my characters were all equally dark and vile and morally bankrupt. Having a decent man wading through this sea of bleakness made a huge difference. He helped me find the voice I’d been looking for.

What’s next up on the agenda?

Dead Pretty is out on the 28th so I have lots of promotions and publicity to get through, then all the hard work starts again on the next Mcavoy bok, which might just be taking Aector out of Hull for the first time. He’ll be more out of his comfort zone than a panda on a motorbike and I can’t wait. There’s also my first historical novel, which will be out next year. And in a moment I may go and have a banana and peanut butter muffin, so I can scratch it off my to-do list ….

Dead Pretty is out on now and you can get it here:

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

In Her Wake - Amanda Jennings

"A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella's comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but her life.Chilling, complex and profoundly moving, In Her Wake is a gripping psychological thriller that questions the nature of family - and reminds us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home."

Wow. I've just finished reading In Her Wake and have been left ever so slightly speechless. There are several books that are being heralded as "2016's psychological thriller of the year" and I've read these books....In Her Wake blows all of them out of the water. This book is seriously, ridiculously good. As a reader I have been blown away by the quality of the writing. As a writer...I've had a little weep on the inside and wished that I had written it myself. 

The plot line is fast-paced without feeling rushed, with characters that the reader can relate to entirely. I loved Bella - her vulnerability and fragility comes across incredibly well, without being annoying or frustrating. It's intriguing to see the way her relationships with her husband, her parents and the new people that she lets into her life develop, and there is an amazing sense of emotion as secrets and lies become uncovered and Bella tries to process everything that is going on around her. 

If you add into this mix of characters and emotions all the little bombs dropped in by the author, tiny twists that cause ripples of explosions throughout, you are left with an utterly compelling, completely addictive read that is extremely beautifully written. This, people, is the psychological thriller of 2016. 

In Her Wake is published on 10th February and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the lovely Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my ARC**

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Follow Me - Angela Clarke

The ‘Hashtag Murderer’ posts chilling cryptic clues online, pointing to their next target. Taunting the police. Enthralling the press. Capturing the public’s imagination.
But this is no virtual threat.
As the number of his followers rises, so does the body count.
Eight years ago two young girls did something unforgivable. Now ambitious police officer Nasreen and investigative journalist Freddie are thrown together again in a desperate struggle to catch this cunning, fame-crazed killer. But can they stay one step ahead of him? And can they escape their own past?
Time's running out. Everyone is following the #Murderer. But what if he is following you?

This book had a really intriguing blurb, and an unusual premise so I was looking forward to getting stuck into it. Opening with a scene involving a (rather messy) dead body it drew me in immediately (you can't beat a messy dead body!) and I loved Freddie as a main character. She's a bit quirky and off the wall and I liked her determination in getting involved in everything that was happening. 

There are some good supporting characters and I liked Nasreen, however the storyline alludes to a 'secret' between Nasreen and Freddie and I was kind of expecting the secret to be a little bit more shocking than what it actually was - It was still good, just not as shocking as I expected after a graphic beginning. 

I really liked the use of social media as a focal point throughout the novel - I'm not sure when it is set, as not many people knew a lot about Twitter, so I'm thinking maybe early 2000's? I think that maybe nowadays people would know how to use Twitter! 

A really good, usual first novel, one that I really enjoyed and will be recommending to others!

Follow Me is out on 31st December and you can get it here:

**Thanks to Avon for my ARC**

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Widow - Fiona Barton

'Me, the grieving widow? Don't make me laugh.'
Introducing a voice as startling and unreliable as The Girl On The Train, with a cast as compelling as Broadchurch. 
Jean Taylor is the wife of a man labelled a monster.
Glen Taylor was accused of heinous crimes, implicated in the disappearance of two-year-old Bella Elliot, snatched from her front garden four years ago. But now he’s dead and Jean Taylor is finally ready to tell her story. 
For the reporter who has secured the exclusive interview, this is the scoop of a lifetime. For the detective who has lived a half-life since he failed to get justice for the lost little girl, it is a chance to uncover the truth that has eluded him for so long.
It's time. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early proof of this at Theakston's Crime Fest at Harrogate, and I couldn't wait to get stuck in. 
IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT! I devoured it in one sitting and can easily see it being 2016's answer to I Let You Go or Girl on The Train. 
With a highly unreliable narrator its difficult to judge whether or not we should trust Jean Taylor, as it seems with one breath she's telling us that her husband was not like that and in the next she lets slip that maybe, possibly, there could have been something to it all. The reader doesn't find out until the end (obvs) what actually happened and who was to blame, and although the story isn't particularly fast-paced, I still wanted to keep turning the pages until I found out the truth. 
It's a fairly emotional read and I swung wildly between pitying Jean, then hating her, then feeling sorry for her again - I guarantee you, you won't be able to put this down until the very last page. 

An absolutely brilliant 5 star read - I will be recommending this one to everyone I know.

The Widow is out on 25th February and you can get it here:

**Many thanks to Transworld and the Harrogate Team for my ARC**

Monday, 18 January 2016

A Song of Shadows - John Connolly

"Grievously wounded private detective Charlie Parker investigates a case that has its origins in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.
Broken, but undeterred, private detective Charlie Parker faces the darkest of dark forces in a case with its roots in the second world war, and a concentration camp unlike any other . . .
Recovering from a near-fatal shooting and tormented by memories of a world beyond this one, Parker has retreated to the small Maine town of Boreas to recover. There he befriends a widow named Ruth Winter and her young daughter, Amanda. But Ruth has her secrets. She is hiding from the past, and the forces that threaten her have their origins in the Second World War, in a town called Lubko and a concentration camp unlike any other. Old atrocities are about to be unearthed, and old sinners will kill to hide their sins. Now Parker is about to risk his life to defend a woman he barely knows, one who fears him almost as much as she fears those who are coming for her.
His enemies believe him to be vulnerable. Fearful. Solitary.
But they are wrong. Parker is far from afraid, and far from alone.
For something is emerging from the shadows . . ."

JC has to be up there with Stephen King as the master of creepy, nightmare-inducing stories. I have been hooked on the Charlie Parker series since the very first book and this latest addition certainly didn't disappoint. 

With familiar characters making a reappearance (always a delight), Charlie is living in a beach front property following on from the events at the end of the previous novel (yes, if you're going to do this, do it properly. Start at the first book and read your way through, I promise you won't regret it). Focussing on Nazi war criminals, this is a pretty hard hitting subject to read about it, but an excellent plot line meant that I was racing through it, even though I felt pretty uncomfortable at times. 

It is both addictive and terrifying - I wanted to put it down but I couldn't. Always a good sign that I have once again been pulled in by Mr Connolly, only allowed to finish when he says so. Another brilliant instalment, and if you haven't read this series yet I highly recommend that you make it your next read. Just don't blame me if you can't sleep.

A Song of Shadows is out now and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**

Friday, 15 January 2016

Nightblind - Ragnar Jonasson

"The peace of a close-knit Icelandic community is shattered by the murder of a policeman - shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark Arctic waters closing in, it falls to Ari Thor to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik where someone is being held against their will..."

Given that I dragged Mr H off on a four day adventure to Iceland off the back of Ragnar's first novel, Snowblind, to say that I was excited to be invited to the launch of his second novel was a major understatement! I managed to save the reading of Nightblind until the Christmas holidays, so that I could fully immerse myself back in Sigulfjordur without interruption. 

If anything, Ragnar has outdone himself this time around - still set in the same beautiful setting, with more atmospheric and intriguing descriptions of the surrounding landscape, he creates an impression of an exciting and mysterious place to live. It was nice to revisit the characters from the first novel - set five years into the future from where Snowblind left off, Ari Thor is still living in Sigulfjordur and working as a policeman,  continuing his volatile relationship with Kristin. There is still an air of mystery surrounding Ari Thor with the disappearance of his father, and I'm looking forward to finding out more about that in later novels. 

The plot line is fast paced, despite the laid back, peaceful surroundings it is set in and I was reeled in from the first page. Although I guessed who was responsible for the murder of Ari Thor's colleague, hardly any clues are given to lead towards the killer and those that are planted are very, very subtle indeed. This is once again an intriguing, Christie-esque mystery that hooks the reader immediately, drawing them in with the beautiful landscapes and addictive characters - a style that Ragnar seems to have already made his trademark. 

Nightblind is out now and you can get it here:

**My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my ARC**

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Mr Splitfoot - Samantha Hunt

"Nat and Rose are young orphans, living in a crowded foster home run by an eccentric religious fanatic. When a traveling con-man comes knocking, they see their chance to escape and join him on the road, proclaiming they can channel the dead - for a price, of course
Decades later, in a different time and place, Cora is too clever for her office job, too scared of her abysmal lover to cope with her unplanned pregnancy, and she too is looking for a way out. So when her mute Aunt Ruth pays her an unexpected visit, apparently on a mysterious mission, she decides to join her. 
Together the two women set out on foot, on a strange and unforgettable odyssey across the state of New York. Where is Ruth taking them? Where has she been? And who - or what - has she hidden in the woods at the end of the road? 
Ingenious, infectious, subversive and strange, Mr Splitfoot will take you on a journey you will not regret - and will never forget."

This is one of the strangest books I've read in a long time, and also one of the most addictive. Although I wasn't too sure whilst I was reading it if I was enjoying it, I couldn't put it down, and have since come to the conclusion that I LOVED it. 

It's a very strange story, with some very strange characters - a boy who claims to be able to speak to dead people, a cult leader, a man with no nose after it rotted off through leprosy, all linked together with a girl who doesn't speak. It sounds weird, it is weird, but it was a strangely beautiful read with a truly magnificent ending, one that I wasn't expecting that I kept thinking about long after it was finished.

If you like something a little bit out of the ordinary, and are happy to try something different, then i highly recommend this book - it doesn't fit in any specific genre for me, but I found it really beautiful and unusual - it's either going to sink without trace or be a massive, massive hit. 

Mr Splitfoot is out now and you can get it here:

**My thanks to the publisher for my ARC**

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Girl in the Red Coat - Kate Hamer **EXTRACT**

Early on in 2015 I was lucky, enough to receive a copy of The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer - it's an absolutely cracking read, and now available in paperback. I reviewed it at the time and it has to be up there with one of my favourites books of 2015. You can read my original review here:

Today I am able to share an extract with you, which hopefully will hook you in and encourage to read the rest - it really is a brilliant read, with some really intriguing characters, not at all your typical kidnapping story.

"Eight-year-old Carmel has always been different - sensitive, distracted, with an heartstopping tendency to go missing. Her mother Beth, newly single, worries about her daughter's strangeness, especially as she is trying to rebuild a life for the two of them on her own. 
When she takes Carmel for an outing to a local festival, her worst fear is realised: Carmel disappears into the crowd. Unable to accept the possibility that her daughter might be gone for good, Beth embarks on a mission to find her. Meanwhile, Carmel begins an extraordinary and terrifying journey of her own. But do the real clues to Carmel's disappearance lie in the otherworldly qualities her mother had only begun to guess at?"


For my eighth birthday I want to go and see a maze. ‘Carmel. What do you know about mazes?’ Mum says. If I think hard I can see a folded puzzle in my mind that looks like a brain.

‘I’ve heard things,’ I say. And Mum laughs and says OK. We don’t have a car so we go on the bus, just the two of us. The windows are steamed up so I can’t see where we’re going. Mum’s got on her favourite earrings which are like bits of glass except colours sparkle on them when she moves.

I’m thinking about my birthday, which was last Thurs- day, and now it’s Saturday and I’m thinking about how my friend gets cards and presents from her nan but Mum doesn’t talk to her mum and dad even though they’re still alive. I don’t mind so much about the cards and presents but I’d like to know what they look like.
‘Mum, have you got a photo of your mum and dad?’
Her head shoots round and the earrings flash pink and yellow lights. ‘I’m not sure. Maybe, why?’
‘I just wonder what they look like sometimes and if they look like me.’ It’s more than sometimes.

‘You look like your dad, sweetheart.’
‘But I’d like to know.’
She smiles. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
When we get off the bus the sky is white and I’m so excited to see a real maze I run ahead. We’re in this big park and mist is rolling around in ghost shapes. There’s a huge grey house with hundreds of windows that are all looking at us. I can tell Mum’s scared of the house so I growl at it. Sometimes she’s scared of everything, Mum – rivers, roads, cars, planes, what’s going to happen and what’s not going to happen.page3image496 page3image656But then she laughs and says, ‘I’m such a silly old thing.’Now we’re at the top of this hill and I can see the maze below and it does look like a brain. I think it’s really funny I’ve thought about a brain inside my brain and try to explain but I don’t do it very well and I don’t think Mum really gets it. But she’s nodding and listening anyway and standing there with her long blue coat all wet from the grass at the bottom. She says, ‘That’s very interesting, Carmel.’ Though I’m not sure she really understood, but Mum always tries to. She doesn’t just ignore you like you’re just a mouse or a bat. So we go in.page2image16016 page2image16176 page2image16336 page2image16496 page2image16656 page2image16816 page2image16976 page2image17136
And I know all of a sudden it’s a place I love more than anywhere I’ve ever been. The green walls are so high the sky’s in a slice above me and it’s like being in a puzzle but in a forest at the same time. Mum says the trees are called yew, and spells it out because I laugh and ask, you? I run on ahead down the path in the middle where the grass is squashed into a brown strip and Mum’s far behind me now. But it doesn’t matter because I know how mazes work and that even if I lose her, we’ll find each other sooner or later.
I carry on round corners and each place looks the same. Bright red berries pop out of the green walls and birds fly over my head. Except I don’t see them fly from one side of the sky to the other – they’re above the high green walls so I only see them for a second and then they’re gone. I hear someone on the other side of the wall.page4image496 page4image656 page4image816 page4image976 page4image1136 page4image1296 page4image1456 page4image1616page3image20200 page3image20360 page3image20520 page3image20680 page3image20840 page3image21000 page3image21160 page3image21320

‘Carmel, is that you?’
And I say no even though I know it’s my mum – it doesn’t sound quite like her.

She says, ‘Yes it is, I know it’s you because I can see your red tights through the tree.’

But I don’t want to go so I just slip away quietly. It starts getting dark, but I still feel at home in this place. Now, it’s more like a forest than a maze. The tops of the trees stretch up, up and away, and get higher, like the dark’s making them grow. There’s some white flowers gleaming and once I see a piece of rope hanging from a branch, I think maybe a child like me used it as a swing. It’s in the middle of a path and I go right up to it so my nose is nearly touching the frayed bit at the end and it twists and turns in the breeze like a worm. Dark green smells are all around and birds are singing from the middle of the walls. I decide to lie under a tree to rest on the soft brown earth because I feel tired and dreamy now. The smell of the earth comes up where I’m squashing it and it smells dark and sweet. Something brushes across my face and I think it’s an old leaf because it feels dead and scrapy.

The birds don’t sound like they’re singing now, more like chatting, and the breeze is making the trees rustle. And I hear my mother calling me but she sounds just like the rustling and the birds and I know I should answer her but I don’t.
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I ran down hallways of yew. Each one looked the same and at the end, every time, I turned a corner to see another endless green corridor in front of me. As I ran I shouted, ‘Carmel, Carmel – where are you?’page5image496 page5image656 page5image816 page5image976 page5image1136 page5image1296 page5image1456 page5image1616
Eventually, when there was only enough light to just about see I stumbled on the entrance. I could see the big grey house through the gap and the front door looked like a mouth that was laughing at me.
Across the field was the man who had taken our money, leaving. He was walking towards the brow of the hill and already a long way from the house.
‘Please, come back.’ My ragged shout didn’t feel like it had come from me. He hadn’t heard. The sound was swept up by the wind and carried away in the other direction. Only crows answered me with their caws. I began running towards him, shouting. He seemed to be walking very fast and his figure was disappearing into the last of the light. Finally he must have caught my cries and I saw him stop and turn his head. I waved my arms about and even from such a distance I could see his body stiffen, sensing danger. I must have looked crazy, though I didn’t think about that then. When I caught up with him he waited for me to get my breath back as I rested my hands on my knees. His face under his old-fashioned cloth cap was watchful.page6image496 page6image656 page6image816 page6image976 page6image1136 page6image1296 page6image1456 page6image1616page5image15664 page5image15824 page5image15984 page5image16144 page5image16304 page5image16464 page5image16624 page5image16784
‘My little girl. I can’t find her,’ I managed to say after a minute.

He took his cap off and smoothed his hair. ‘The one with red legs?’

‘Yes, yes – the little girl with red tights.’
We set off towards the maze. He switched on his torch to show the way.

‘People don’t just go into mazes and never come out,’ he said reasonably.

‘Has anyone else been here today?’ I asked. My throat closed up waiting for his answer.

‘No. At least, there was a couple here this morning. But they’d gone by the time you arrived.’

‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’
He stopped and turned. ‘I’m sure. Don’t worry, we’ll find her. I know this maze like the back of my hand.’ I felt so grateful then to be with this man who had the plan of the puzzle imprinted on him.

As we approached the maze he switched his torch off. We didn’t need it any more. A big moon had risen and lit up the place like a floodlight at a football match. We went in through the arched entrance cut into the woven trees. In the moonlight the foliage and the red berries had turned to black.

‘What’s the little girl’s name again? Karen?’
‘No, no. Carmel.’
‘Carmel.’ His voice boomed out.
We walked fast, shouting all the way. He turned the torch back on and pointed it under the hedges. There were rustlings around us and once he pointed the light straight into the eyes of a rabbit that froze for a moment before bolting across our path. I could tell he was working through the maze methodically from the plan.page7image504 page7image664 page7image824 page7image984 page7image1144 page7image1304 page7image1464 page7image1624page6image17040 page6image17200 page6image17360 page6image17520 page6image17680 page6image17840 page6image18000 page6image18160
‘I think we should call the police,’ I said, after about twenty minutes. I was becoming frantic again.
‘Maybe. We’re nearly at the centre now though.’
We turned another corner and there she was, in the crook of the hedge. The torchlight flashed over her red legs poking out from underneath the black wall. I put both hands into the gap and dragged her out. Her body felt pliant and warm and I could tell at once she was asleep. I lifted her into my lap and rocked her back and forth and kept saying to the man smiling down at us, ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’ I smiled back at him and held her lovely solid warmth.
How many times I was back in that place that night. Even after we were home and safely tucked into bed, I kept dreaming I was there again. Walking round and round in circles and looking. Sometimes the rabbit bolted away – but sometimes it stopped right in the middle of the path and stared at me, its nose twitching. 

The Girl in the Red Coat is out now and you can get it here:

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