Shank (Tool’s Law I) Review

Shank

Roy Harper’s prison based escape drama is brimming with excitement, adventure and witty dialogue, and although not a traditional crime fiction novel there is enough intrigue and interest to wet the appetite for more (which, given the title, would suggest that more are coming, despite the finality to the ending).

Set in and around the violent and corrupt Parchman Maximum Security Prison in Mississippi, Shank tells the story of David “Tool” Roney, violent criminal with a dangerous past and a distorted moral code. Escape, betrayal and the quest for vengeance all follow as Tool desperately strives to match the needs of his moral code with the very real need for freedom. His discovery of a woman named Rose complicates the issue, providing an interesting character dynamic.

Setting is used well here, acting as both an asset and a hindrance to the escaped convict as he battles against both nature and fear to survive and find a way to heal after the horrific events of the book’s beginning. Although crime is the primary plot device here, this novel is really about Tool’s journey from prisoner to free man, with some surprisingly tender passages for a book whose main character is a criminal.

Ultimately Shank is a tough read, dealing with emotive subjects including rape, murder and severe violence: despite this there is a real humanity to this novel, and some great insights into human nature which make this an ideal read for those looking for something new from their crime fiction.

Jill Paton Walsh’s Lord Peter Wimsey Novels: My Thoughts

dorothy sayers

Dorothy L Sayers and her excellent Lord Peter Wimsey novels have been a constant source of enjoyment for me over the years. They exhibit the very best of Sayers’ dry humour and expert plotting, whilst showcasing a side of the author which I had not seen before (I knew her previously as a Dante translator.

As such I was excited when I found out that her final, unfinished novel, Thrones, Dominations was being published after having been finished by Jill Paton Walsh. I wasn’t disappointed either- the novel is seamless, with no indication of where Sayers left off and Paton Walsh took over. The characterisation is perfect, and the sweet sub-plots revolving around the Wimsey family and dedicated manservant Bunter are well handled.

Following on from this success Paton Walsh decided to take on the task of writing a full length Wimsey novel of her own, and has since completed three. The best of these is The Attenbury Emeralds, which takes the reader through Lord Peter’s very first case and the new mystery that threatens the lives of the aristocracy many years later.

Again, whilst begin sympathetic to the reader’s need to learn more about the characters following the previous novel, Paton Walsh does not go overboard- the characters are as well-rounded as ever and the dialogue is so good you could probably convince even die-hard Sayers fans that they were reading from pages written by the great lady herself. The scathing critiques of the upper classes remain, and the time period reflects the dissent in the serving classes which Paton Walsh expertly references, interweaving it into the novel with great skill.

Ultimately these novels emulate the very best of Sayers’ own work, acting as both social commentary and riveting crime novels. Whilst the insight is not quite as razor sharp as that of the Sayers herself, Patton Walsh’s books make great reading for both fans of the war-damaged, hilariously unpretentious and generally curious Lord Peter and newcomers alike.

 

Mike Craven Interview

Body Breaker

Boy have I got a treat for you this fine weekend! I caught up with former probation worker turned full time writer Mike Craven, who talked me through his work, favourite authors, where he takes his inspiration from, and, most importantly of all, what kind of dog he has. Enjoy! 

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards crime fiction?

I suppose like many writers, I have an eclectic reading taste. When I was younger I was very much into the thriller genre – Alistair MacLean being my favourite author – and the fantasy genre. But at the heart of everything I loved about reading was the mystery… The thrill of trying to figure out what was going on, and there are no better examples of mysteries than the crime fiction genre.

On a more commercial note, crime fiction is the biggest genre in fiction, and as I’d worked in probation since 1999 it seemed a natural marriage.

Tell me about how your background in the army and in social work. How do you draw on these experiences in your writing?

My probation background (I’ve left now – I’m a full time writer) has had a large influence on my work but you’re right: my army background still influences my writing today. DI Avison Fluke – perhaps the police officer I’m best known for – is an ex-Royal Marine, and his best friend, Sergeant Matt Towler, is an ex-Para. Another character I’ve written for a different crime series – Washington Poe – is ex-Black Watch. Body Breaker, the sequel to Born in a Burial Gown, is out in 2017 and goes into some of what Fluke and Towler experienced when they were serving. Why I write characters who’ve been in the military though is anyone’s guess. I suspect it’s because if they have a similar background to me, it’s a bit easier to get inside their heads.

My social work background has been subliminally useful. One of the things I’m known for is giving my ‘villains’ complex emotions and motivations, and as understanding why people do the things they do is half of what social work (and probation) is about, it’s probably been more influential than I realise. What you’ll never get in a Mike Craven book is a criminal who’s doing things with no obvious motivation. Everyone has a reason to do the things they do…

Your books have received wide critical acclaim and won/ been shortlisted awards. What do you believe is the secret behind your success?

I think I’ve had success because I tread that tricky line between dark and gritty, and humorous. Without the light, you can’t appreciate the dark. In all my books – and some are incredibly graphic (I’ve just written a scene for a new book in which a man sucks another man’s eye out in a fight) – there will always be the lighter moments to balance it out.

I also think my characters are rounded and believable. They might have foibles, they might have faults and sometimes they can be infuriating, but they are real. They mess up their personal life just as much as you or I do. They get in bad moods and say things they shouldn’t. In short, they’re relatable.

What aspect of your books do you feel attracts your readers and makes your work so hard to put down?

That’s the golden question isn’t it? If we can answer that we can all go home. Write one book then retire on the never-ending royalties. When I start to write a book, I try to write one that I’d like to read. And, as I said earlier, for me, it’s all about the mystery. Ask a series of questions at the start – don’t answer them until the end. Add some plausible characters and some realistic (and humorous) dialogue to a good plot and you have something that people should enjoy.

Where do you find the inspiration for your work? Are there any specific exercises or tricks you use to get your creative juices flowing?

Inspiration has never been a problem for me. I’ve had writer’s block and seem to be blessed with the one thing you can’t learn: a vivid (and sometimes very strange) imagination. When I’m writing a novel – in whichever series – I usually have the next three or four plotted out.

As I’m a full time writer, Mon–Fri are the days I write. I get up fairly early (earlier than I did when I worked for probation anyway), take the dog out (I have a crackers springer spaniel), have some breakfast and a shower then sit at my desk. Sometimes I’ll print off emails I’ve sent to myself from the evening before (lines of dialogue or narrative I’ve thought of or links to articles I want to keep), but usually I’ll turn on my laptop and get to work.

If you could collaborate with any writer, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

The hugely influential American crime writer, Michael Connelly. For me, he’s the best crime writer writing today, and his main character (although I love them all), Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch is a superb creation. I think any collaboration where Bosch and Fluke or Bosch and Poe get to work together would be fascinating.

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

I’ve mentioned Washington Poe a few times. This is a new series and Washington Poe is a detective sergeant who works for the Serious Crime Analysis Section, the National Crime Agency’s serial killer unit. He and a young – and extremely naïve – analyst called Tilly get dragged into a serial killer investigation when his name is found carved into the chest of one of his victims. It needs a little more editing but my agent should be submitting it later this year. The working title is Welcome to the Puppet Show.

I’ve also finished – this week as it happens – the first in an American action thriller series. A Different Kind of Animal features an ex-U.S. Marshal called Ben Koenig who suffers from a condition called Urbach-Wiethe which results in him having a much reduced capacity to experience fear.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

Quiet a few actually. There are some debut authors who we should all look out for: Jackie Baldwin, a writer from Dumfries, has Dead Man’s Prayer out soon, Lucy Cameron (also from Dumfries) has Night is Watching, and Tess Makovesky has Raise the Blade.

A good friend of mine, and extremely talented author, releases a book this year Graham Smith’s I Know Your Secret is the sequel to the hugely successful Snatched From Home and it’s a cracking reads.

Some of my favourite, more established authors, all have books out in the next few weeks. Michael J. Malone with A Suitable Lie, Matt Hilton with Painted Skins, Lee Child with Night School, Michael Connelly with the Wrong Side of Goodbye and Carl Hiaasen with Razor Girl.

Thanks ever so much to Mike for taking the time to answer my questions- it’s been a blast. Check out Mike’s website HERE to find out more about his work and upcoming projects.

 

Aidan Thorn Interview

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Aidan Thorn, a short story writer who has also published a novella, When the Music’s Over, talks to me about his work, his background and the writers he admires the most. 

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?

I’m not convinced I’ve ever totally defined my writing style and that’s a big part of why I like to write short stories, it allows me to experiment a bit with different voices and styles. I guess on the whole I write what Paul Brazill would term Brit Grit, but that said I’ve had people comment that one or two of my stories put them in mind of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett – I take the compliment, but I don’t believe the person telling me. Some say I write “noir” I don’t really know or care what that means to be honest – for me I just write stories. And why am I drawn to dark fiction, mostly because that’s what I like to read and watch – let’s be honest all the best characters are anti-heroes, everybody loves to read about a rogue and I love creating them, they can be shallow empty people just out for themselves, or complicated individuals with layers behind why they do what they do – they’re great to write.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing crime fiction?

I’ve always had an interest in writing, when I was a kid I remember writing a story about a boy that found a time machine and went on adventures. As I grew up I had numerous attempts to get bands off the ground (fail) and wrote lyrics for songs. And then a few years ago on a trip to the USA I couldn’t sleep at night so I let an over active imagination outline the plot to a novel. Those initial thoughts are now my first published novella, When the Music’s Over, which came out last year from the excellent Number Thirteen Press. Of course that wasn’t the first story I had published, I had a bunch of shorts published widely across the internet and in anthologies in both the UK and US. I always had a love of crime fiction, the likes of George Pelecanos, Michael Connolly, Lawrence Block, Dennis Lehane etc… and so it seemed a natural fit to get into writing that genre.

You write a lot of short stories. What draws you to this style of writing?

There’s a couple of reasons I guess, one is, as I said earlier, it allows me to experiment with styles and voices. Another reason is that I have a bunch of ideas rattling around in my head at once and I just have to get them out, they often become disruptive to bigger projects, so I get them done and I hope that I’m then free to write the bigger stuff – it rarely works, I’ve only ever completed two novellas. The other reason is I like the breadth of coverage I get from writing short stories, there are currently nine books sat on my bookshelf with stories by me in, plus a bunch of websites out there hosting my work – I couldn’t achieve that writing long stuff.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

Everyday life really. My short story for Exiles was inspired by nothing more than doing some gardening and taking the rubbish to the dump. My story in Rogue was inspired by a trip to buy a few tropical fish for my tank. As I said earlier I have an over active imagination, and perhaps a slightly criminal mind- I see a story in a lot of things that happen every day, and usually a potential crime.

I don’t really have any rituals for writing, I like to listen to music, or stick a concert on YouTube while I’m doing it but I typically just write when the mood strikes me and I can fit it in.

What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

There are so many writers I admire to be honest, and if I list them all here it’ll get very boring. I am a huge fan of George Pelecanos, I always seek out anything new from him the minute it’s out. But I’d like to use this space to give a shout out to some of the best writers I’ve ever read, that the average reader that browses the shelves of Waterstones wont have heard of. The list is endless but let me pick out just a few (and I’m sorry to those of you I miss out but you know I love your work)… Darren Sant, he writes fabulous short fiction, his Longcroft Tales are incredible, but for me his stand out work was The Bank Manager and the Bum, an incredible adult fairy tale that has stayed with me since I first read it a few years ago. Gareth Spark, in my opinion the best writer working today, his short story collection Snake Farm is a master class in how to write dark fiction and his novella Marwick’s Reckoning was a book I was looking forward to for a very long time and it exceeded even my high expectations. I really could go on forever here but I’ll pick out just one more (and again apologise to everyone else who I love!) early this summer I read Ryan Bracha’s The Switched – possibly the best book I’ve read – incredible.

If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I’ve already done it. Earlier this year I wrote to a bunch of people who’s writing I enjoyed and asked if they’d like to be part of a charity anthology I was putting together in support of a lovely lady from the writing community that I’m part of called Henri Furchtenicht. Henri isn’t a writer herself but her husband Craig is an incredible one (add him to the list above!) and we’d become friends via Facebook. Henri is battling Multiple Myeloma and so I decided to do a charity anthology for her. I wrote to a bunch of writers I admire and as soon as they knew it was for Henri they jumped onboard the project, now known as Paladins. On this project I was the curator and so I got to work with incredible writers, all of the guys I’ve mentioned above, plus Christopher Davis, Matt Mattila, Graham Wynd (AKA K A Laity), Keith Nixon, Jason Beech, Bill Baber, Linda Angel, Cal Marcius, Dave Jaggers, Gabriel Valjan, Robert Cowan. It was a massive honour to pull together such a talented group of writers, and also have Craig Douglas do the formatting and Mark Wilson create the stunning cover design. I hope to put together Paladins 2 at some point, I hope many of these guys will return and that we get some new faces on board with the project.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m currently pulling together all of my crime or gritty short stories into one collection ready for release later this year. The collection will be called Tales of the Underbelly and well include over 30 stories varying in length from short vignettes to a couple of novelettes that are around 10,000 words each. A lot of my short stories use the same characters so I’ve tried to batch stories in the collection so that the reader can follow character developments. Other than that I have a novella in development called Rival Sons and a novel that I’ve been working on for a while called Killing in the name of… whether either of them see the light of day will depend entirely on how many new short story ideas keep popping into my head!

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

Always… But then I have a bunch of books sitting on my shelves and Kindle that I haven’t got around to reading yet and I’m looking forward to also, for example Robert Cowan’s All is Vanity and Joe Clifford’s December Boys. A recent release that I haven’t picked up yet is Ryan Bracha’s After Work Call, I’m looking forward to that, plus Paul Brazill’s Cold London Blues and I’m delighted that Tess Makovesky has her book, Raise the Blade coming out this year too. The one I’m most looking forward to though is the release of Cinnamon Girl by Christopher Davis, I read an early draft of that one and gave some opinions, so I can’t wait to see how it turned out… Chris is a great guy and he really deserves to see his work being read… as all these guys do!

Anything you’d like to add?

A couple of things – look out for the guys writing for the indie presses and putting stuff out themselves, there’s so much talent out there that goes largely unnoticed and the other thing, thanks for having me here!

Thanks very much to Aidan for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been really enlightening to hear about the work of such a talented writer and his peers. To find out more about Aidan and his writing check out his website HERE.

The Goshawk: Review

The Goshawk

T H White’s The Goshawk is renowned as a classic of the English pastoral genre- a terrifying tale of man’s eternal struggle to tame nature, interspersed with White’s account of his own personal struggles at the time.

Much like Helen Macdonald’s stunning memoir H is for Hawk (you can read my review of that excellent book HERE), which draws inspiration from The Goshawk, White’s book is about more than just the training of a bird. Filled with historical titbits, hawking trivia as well as passages of great personal sentiment, the book is an excellent reminder tha toyu are not alone in the struggle to find your place in the world.

White’s hawk, whom he names Gos in an uninspired attempt to distance the animal from becoming a pet, is lively and spirited, and White, who at the time was struggling through a quagmire of personal suffering, was completely inexperienced in hawk training, having gained much of his knowledge from books on the subject.

The result is as catastrophic as you would expect, and documented beautifully in White’s terse prose. The book is a triumph of writing versus subject- whilst it may sound dull to read 150 odd pages of a man trying (and failing) to tame a goshawk, the books depiction of this battle is what makes it so readable.

The Girl On The Train Trailer: My Thoughts

The Girl on The Train is a captivating and frankly terrifying read (you can check out my full review of the book HERE).

Despite the book having been one of my personal favourites for a long time, I have always been sceptical about Hollywood getting hold of it and turning it into some awful drudge. Setting the film in America (despite casting Emily Blunt as Rachel) is a real issue in my opinion- much of the book’s strength comes from Paula Hawkins’ strong knowledge of London and the boredom many commuters feel being packed onto crowded and often delayed trains.

The America setting gives the trailer a sterile vibe- there is a shot of trees in an unknown forest covered in yellow crime scene tape which offers the viewer little beyond a feeling of idle curiosity.

Luke Evans (who will always be the guy in the Hobbit films who hides dwarves in barrels of fish) has the exact combination of creepy and desperate that his character, Scott, husband of the missing Megan.

Despite my doubts I am looking forward to seeing the film, and hope for an invigorating and jaw dropping cinematic experience which mirrors that of the book.

John Rigbey Interview

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This week the Dorset Book Detective speaks to a former real life detective, as I speak to John Rigbey, a retired London CID Officer and recognised authority on London’s gangland of the sixties and seventies. He talks me through his writing style and why he would never consider a collaborative writing project. 

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards crime fiction?

John: How can anyone write about things they know nothing about? Many authors make friends with some old copper and pick his brains but I insist on authenticity and would never, ever, attempt to write a store about today’s policing because I do not know much about it – having left the police in 1972 after 18 years – and that is why much of my stuff is based in the era I knew.

 

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?


John: I like John Grisham but don’t read much fiction at all. I read autobiographies and a lot of true crime (not modern) and the causes celebres of the past interest me. I think Harper Lee was overrated and personally believe that much of Mockingbird was written by Truman Capote and in exchange she did a lot of “In Cold Blood”. “Go tell a Whatever it is” is consummate crap – my opinion! In Cold Blood is totally and utterly brilliant and stands alone in UK and US crime writing.

Would you ever collaborate with any writer, living or dead, on a writing project and if so who would it be and why?

John: Absolutely not. I am sure that we would fight like bloody cats (no matter if it was Dickens or JP Rowling) as I am a most disagreeable man, they say. I tried it once, many year ago, and it was a disaster. Comedy scripts and stuff like that are one thing – see the great duos who did the two Ronnies, Eric and Ernie, Dad’s Army etc, but books are very different.

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me? 


John: I am in my eightieth year and the future is limited. I find non-crime is more enjoyable, see my “A Week on the Island” and “Of Paradise and Pigs.” At the moment I am doing the second draft of a book (working title “Arsenic and Mercy Quint” based on true events in Cornwall in 1930. This will be back with publishers please God in a week or two for final decision as to what they want to do. I am half way through a sort of sequel to “Pigs” – “Of Paradise and Miss Jane Pollitt” and all I need to do is to live long enough.

Thanks very much to John for taking the time to talk to me. To learn more about Jon check out his website HERE