Young Wallander: When Reimaging A Crime Series Goes Wrong

As a huge fan of Henning Mankell’s dour Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander (so much so that I have a tattoo of a line from one of the titans of Scandi-crime’s books on my shoulder), I was excited to check out the new Young Wallander series on Netflix.

The trailer did not fill me with hope, but I argued to myself that it’s only a small snippet of what was to come. When the series finally dropped I was eager to get started, but I soon realised that it wasn’t what I’d expected.

Mankell wrote a series of short stories about his protagonist’s origins, called The Pyramid. Set in the 1970s, the series follows Wallander as he starts out in the force and shows his burgeoning relationship with his wife, who would later leave him. It also shows the struggles at the time, including the racism and social divisions that were a key fixture of Mankell’s novels set during the height of Wallander’s career.

I’d expected that the TV series would use these stories as its base, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the show used a later novel, The Man Who Smiled, as the basis for it’s plot, but the similarities were so slight that it took me about 5 episodes to realise. It’s only small elements, but given the fact that the series was produced by Yellow Bird, the production company that helped with the Swedish series with Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh’s English version, it’s clear that these coincidences were deliberate. After all, Mankell consulted with the company on the initial two series while he was still alive, so it makes sense that they’ve done this as some kind of weird tribute.

Unfortunately, by filming it in Lithuania and filling the cast with a motely crew of British and European actors, none of whom can do a Swedish accent to save their lives, Young Wallander turns into a very poor tribute to the author. Wallander in this series is nothing like the version in the novels or the original shows that inspired so many to become fans of this intellectual detective. The boy in the show is nothing like the man he’s supposed to be becoming; he’s much less intellectual and has far too much nervous energy.

He’d never become the jaded detective of Henning Mankell’s incredible novels, who was committed to fighting crime but world-weary at the same time. He used his wits and intelligence, as well as his gut feelings; this new, younger version only uses his hunches. His guesses are never based on anything, whereas the real Kurt Wallander always had a reason, even if it was vague and based on something that had happened a while ago.

Also, this new character that Netflix has dreamed up is far too polite to be Wallander. That might sound unkind, but part of the character’s charm is that he’s gruff and grumpy, and that, while he understands the psychology of violence and crime, he struggles to connect on a basic level with others.

The version in this TV show is friendly, happy and great with people. The version of his love interest, Mona, who becomes Kurt’s wife in the novels, is also wrong. She’s the only other recognisable character from the books, and she’s far too conscientious. She’s also too happy with Kurt- in the novels, Kurt was always much more in love with the idea of Mona, and she was simply angry that he was never present around her. In the TV version, the pair actually make a great couple, which means that the premise isn’t sustainable (in the books they have one daughter, then divorce when she’s young).

Many online commentators have been quick to point out that the series should be taken as a unique entity in its own right. However, I’d argue that since it’s based on a series of world-famous novels, the creators of the show have an obligation to create a series that honours the books, or at the very least vaguely resembles them.

Completely ignoring them is pointless- why didn’t they just create a new character? The answer, I suspect, is that they wanted viewers to come expecting Wallander. Unfortunately, what we got was a very poor facsimile that doesn’t hold a candle to the novels or any of the three preceding TV series.

That being said, I would still have hated Young Wallander even if it hadn’t used the name of a character that I love. The show is poorly plotted to the point where it barely makes any sense. The ending is perhaps the worst ending in a crime fiction show that I’ve seen in many years, and that’s saying something!

To sum up, I wouldn’t recommend Young Wallander to anyone, whether you’re an avid Mankell fan like me or just someone looking for something to watch to keep yourself busy. There are so many other, much better shows on Netflix that are worth your time more than this.

Paul Asling Interview: “I think my life in London and my background have influenced my fiction the most”

London crime and romance writer Paul Asling shares a unique insight into his work and why he’s deeply passionate about the UK’s bustling capital city.

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

Good question. I think my writing style has slowly developed over many years. I have read many true-life crime books, along with fictional crime novels and short stories. I try to get a balance between the two in my writing.

I have always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and I thought, as I had the time, I would try my hand at writing a crime fiction novel. It was not a simple task, and it took a lot longer than I thought, but the result was my first book, Love You Till I Die.

What attracts me to crime fiction is I can use gritty imagery to deal with the most dangerous situations that people can find themselves in. It also allows me to enjoy writing about the complexity of people, as well as giving me the chance to explore both the good and bad aspects of my different characters.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

My background is varied. I started off working in the West End of London as an apprentice Gas Fitter in the 60s and then as a London Taxi Driver in the 70s. I had a complete career change in the 80s when I got into management and then joined the legal profession. 

I think my life in London and my background have influenced my fiction the most. I started off by writing short stories about situations I’d encountered in my life growing up in London, and its characters I’d met on the way. I think this has given my writing an added layer of depth and grit.

What is it about London that makes the city such a central part of your books?

I think London is one of the most exciting and inspiring cities in the world. Day and night, it’s filled with its own smells, tastes and sounds. The city is full of extraordinary history, vitality and diversity. It also displays a remarkably rich and varied tapestry of local characters. Probably the best piece of advice I was given when I started writing was, ‘write about what you know’. And I know London inside out.

What books do you enjoy reading, and how do they influence your work?

Any work from Tony Parsons or Sebastian Faulks. I’m also a big fan of Geoffrey Household novels. I think my biggest influence would be Geoffrey Household and his descriptions of people and places.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

With writer’s block, my list of ideas outweighs the number of stories I complete, or even start. I revisit my old notebooks whenever I’m at a loss for an idea.

For me, inspiration for writing is easy. Mainly it is listening to conversations of friends I have grown up with. I attended a school in Fulham, West London (in the 60s, when is wasn’t posh) to say it was rough would be an understatement- we had our own coroner. And my first job as a teenager was a tail gunner on a milk float. The area has certainly changed from the days I was living there.

A week ago, myself and five old friends met up in a pub in Chichester. During the four-hour period, we were there enough material came out for another ten books!

I’m fascinated by people’s motivations, especially when they seem illogical. Dark, gritty stories allow me to explore what drives people. I also think my experiences of being an ex-boxer, and the various jobs I’ve had in my life, have helped me build the characters in my books.

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

I think for me it would be Tony Parsons. If ever a man wears his heart on his sleeve, it’s him. Coming from a working-class family, as I did myself, he shows what can be done. 

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My last book, The Carters’ was published three months ago. I have started another book, but over the next year my plan is to write some short stories alongside the new book.  

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

Any new work from Tony Parsons, Sebastian Faulks, or John Grisham.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank you, Hannah, for allowing me space on your fantastic blog.My books can be found at:

Thanks to Paul for answering my questions, it’s incredible to hear your thoughts and learn more about your work.

The Killings At Kingfisher Hill Review: Poirot Returns With Another Captivating Case

When I heard that acclaimed thriller writer Sophie Hannah was releasing another novel brining Agatha Christie’s legendary detective Hercule Poirot back to life, I was extremely excited. I’d enjoyed her previous forays into Golden Age crime fiction and brining back Christie’s iconic Belgium sleuth, so I was eager to see what she had in store for us this time around.

Poirot is an incredible character, and Hannah does him justice in her series of novels. She brings back the flair and ingenuity, while also showcasing the humility. Her books don’t just turn him into a caricature, like some film and TV portrayals. Instead, they showcase all of his talents in a way that the Queen Of Crime herself would be proud of.

This latest outing of Hannah’s reimagined Poirot, has him travelling on a Kingfisher Company coach to a private estate outside of London. He travels with the sidekick of Hannah’s creation, Inspector Catchpool, who’s a bit like a policeman version of Christie’s own character Captain Hastings. They’re going to visit Kingfisher Hill, a prestigious estate that houses deadly secrets.

Richard Devenport, whose family owns Little Key, a majestic house in the heart of the estate, has asked Poirot to visit his home to covertly survey his family and find out who killed his brother Frank. Richard’s fiancé, Helen Acton, has confessed to the crime, but Richard is convinced of her innocence. In his letter to Poirot he stipulates that he and Catchpool must pretend that they know nothing of the killing; instead, they are to imply that they want to learn more about a board game that Richard’s father and his business partner have created, called Peepers.

From the moment that the coach sets off, things get morbid, as they’re wont to do in a Golden Age style crime novel. A hysterical woman boards the coach, and almost automatically kicks up a fuss saying that if she doesn’t switch seats, then she’ll be murdered. Poirot changes seats with her, and is promptly faced with a confession of murder.

All of this occurs before the pair of protagonists even arrives at their destination. Once they get there, things quickly take a turn for the even stranger, with their deception becoming discovered. They are quickly called out and their identities are revealed. The woman who made her bizarre murder confession reveals them to be detectives, rather than the board game loving businessmen that they were pretending to be. She then offers up another confession, which throws the entire case into jeopardy.

Later, as the pair starts their work on this extraordinary case, a body is discovered at Little Key, raising even more questions for them to find the answers to. While investigating, they’re faced with strange confessions, unusual coincidences and much more. With no idea who to trust and where to turn, the detective and his policeman sidekick set out to uncover the truth about this utterly absurd series of events, and the equally unusual ones that follow later in the novel.

Hannah’s previous Poirot novels show her penchant for perplexing plots, and The Killings At Kingfisher Hill carries on her legacy of taking Christie’s original flair for the extravagant and taking it one step further. The novel is a perfect combination of outlandish and believable.

Every chapter leads to more questions, but Hannah is skilled at keeping the reader interested and providing them with information in a way that doesn’t feel stilted. As a result, readers are kept intrigued throughout the novel despite the various plot twists and strange occurrences. There’s something new to learn about in each chapter and with every encounter that Poirot and Catchpool have, so that the reader is kept constantly guessing and unsure of what’s coming next.

In her characterisation, Hannah is spot-on, creating believable yet fascinating characters. Both her suspects and her secondary characters are two-dimensional, believable individuals who interest the reader and keep the suspense ramped up throughout the novel. The author demonstrates a profound understanding of human nature that Christie herself would have been proud of.

After all, the Queen of Crime was renowned for her sharp dialogue and incredible characterisation. In Sophie Hannah, she has an ideal modern-day counterpart to continue her legacy and bring Hercule Poirot, Christie’s most famous detective character, to a new generation of readers.

At the end of the day, that’s what reimagining a beloved character is all about; making them accessible to new readers. Hannah has achieved this goal and much more with her amazing Poirot novels, and The Killings At Kingfisher Hill is another spectacular example that is worth reading, whether you’re already a fan of Christie’s pernickety detective or he’s a completely new revelation to you.

Hannah’s novels are standalone pieces, but you’ll want to read more after you’ve finished your first, whether it’s this one or you start at the beginning with The Monogram Murders. Whatever your preference, you’ll be hooked once you sink your teeth in Hannah’s novels, and will soon find yourself desperate to check out Christie’s original stories.  

As I Predicted, Book Sales Have Soared And Readers Are Living Our Best Lives

Recently I wrote a blog post about how many new books would be coming out in September, and how this was amazing news for readers. I was excited to see what happened, and now, a few weeks later, we’re seeing the results.

There’s loads of new books out, so we’re able to stock up in anticipation of a second wave and the cold weather that’s coming as we move closer towards autumn. That also means that publishers, authors and publicists are having a great time too, as their figures get a much-needed boost.

As such, it’s been ace for writers and bookshops too, with booksellers reporting record sales over recent weeks, and some even comparing their sales figures to the time when the last Harry Potter novel was released. They’ve seen more readers purchasing books as their favourite authors publish exciting new volumes, either as part of a series or stand alone books.

Everyone from Jo Nesbo through to, of all people, Ant and Dec, have new books out shortly, so there’s something for literally every reader. There is everything from young adult fiction through to thrillers, romances to autobiographies, and beyond. Readers of all ages, abilities and interests will find something that they love in this latest swathe of releases, which has become one of the biggest and most popular of the year so far.

As I mentioned in my previous post about the number of new releases coming out over the coming weeks, it’s clear that increased book reading is one of the few good things to come out this horrendous situation. The pandemic has led to more people reading and, as such, buying books.

With book sales rising, and crime fiction a particular winner in the race towards increased popularity, readers have lots to get their teeth into and keep themselves busy if (read: when) a second wave locks everywhere down again.

Which brings me on to my next point. While book sales are rising now, readers need to continue to prioritise their hobby and invest more of their time on reading over the coming months and years. Reading offers so many benefits to the mind and your wellbeing, as well as your overall view of the world.

Reading widely, and by a range of different authors from all types of backgrounds, helps to broaden your view of the world. It helps you to see everything and understand the perspectives of people from different backgrounds. It also helps you to learn cool new things, and to see the world in a different light.

For writers too, the boost in productivity has helped them to grow and expand their knowledge. I write almost every day in my job, and I find that the more I write, the more I’m able to write. I expand my knowledge with everything I write. You also have to read a lot when you’re researching for articles or books, so you naturally absorb loads of exciting new information.

Creative writers have clearly been knuckling under and being productive during the lockdown, as this spike in new book releases proves. Hopefully, they’ll keep up the momentum and bring us lots of exciting new titles well into next year and even further into the future.

So, in all, I’m happy to hear that more writers are writing and more readers are reading. Or, more accurately, that we’re all buying books to read. When we’ll read them, remains to be seen. I’m excited to see how much our reading habit extends once the pandemic is fully over, and whether or not we continue to make time for solitary pursuits like reading in the long run.

The Interpreter From Java Review: A Post Colonial Masterpiece That’s Not To Be Missed

The opening sentence of The Interpreter From Java is a little over a page long, and outlines a list of horrific crimes committed by the narrator’s father, the titular interpreter, decades before.

Punctuated by commas, the sentence runs on and on, giving the reader overwhelming feelings of claustrophobia and revulsion, which quickly become a theme throughout the novel.

Written by Alfred Birney and translated into English from the original Dutch by David Doherty, The Interpreter From Java is an intriguing novel told in two halves. The first half is in-depth review of the Indonesian war for independence from Allied rule in the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an interpreter who worked with the marines, this half of the novel is intriguing and enlightening.

The other half of the novel is told from the perspective of the interpreter’s son, Alan, who writes his own story as well as interjecting into his father’s memoirs to remind him of his cruelty and mistreatment. Alan spent half his life scared witless of his father, and the other half in a children’s home facing institutional racism, sexual exploitation and more. The novel dips into each narrative, sometimes tracing large chunks of the memoirs and Alan’s life, other times flitting between the two, so the reader is captivated by the two stories at once, and the lines between the past and the present blur together.

Through this tale of family betrayal and abandonment, Birney highlights the merciless battles that plagued colonial Indonesia and its inhabitants. It also emphasises the identity issues that the children of colonial imperialists and local individuals face. Arto Nolan (he adds the d himself later), Alan’s father, is the illegitimate son of a European colonial businessman and his Chinese concubine living in Indonesia. He isn’t acknowledged by his father, yet he remains a fanatical supporter of the Dutch occupation, and eventually becomes an ‘interpreter’ for the Allied forces, acting as a cross between a local guide and a cold-blooded solider.

The section of the novel that Birney devotes Arto’s memoirs highlights the stark irony of a man who lambasts native soldiers for killing innocent people in the name of liberty, while at the same time committing equally heinous crimes in the pursuit of imperialist greed.

The author emphasises the complicated nature of the relationship that some of the region’s inhabitants had with their identities and how this impacted on colonial rule. He explains how Arto began his crusade against the Japanese invaders, then became a solider for the Allies out of his misguided belief that the Westerns were somehow more civilised, and that their violence served a higher purpose. In this regard, the author showcases the complicated politics of colonialism, and how it was branded to make those who were being invaded believe that they were actually being saved.

In the half of the novel dedicated to Alan’s depiction of life after the war, in which Arto has swapped guns and war for domestic abuse and spending his evenings typing away on an old Remington typewriter, Birney proves that these identity politics extend beyond colonialism. Alan and his brothers and sister are a partially Dutch, partially Chinese but many with darker skin and all with an incomplete understanding of their heritage. Alan describes them as ‘Indos’ at times, and at others as Dutch. He doesn’t understand his heritage, despite trips to meet his extended family on the other side of the world and his raking through his father’s memoirs in search of answers.

Every sentence of this remarkable novel is designed to grab the reader by the throat, shake them awake and keep them that way. The opening line is a continuous list, and the entire novel is an exploration of colonial crimes and the lasting harm that the various European empires caused to multiple generations. It’s not just Arto and those who lived through the occupations that were scarred; his children, and his grandchildren also suffer endure fractured identities and the mental weight that serious abuse has on children.

Overall, The Interpreter From Java is a long and arduous read, but it’s also informative, insightful and enlightening. If you’re looking to broaden your mind and learn more about the affects of Colonialism on the generations that came long after the world’s empires were demolished, then this is the book for you. It’s well worth reading for curious readers

Michele Rodriguez Interview: “I see fiction writing as a soul cleansing process that can give voices to the previously voiceless”

In today’s interview I’m speaking to Michele Rodriguez, author of the CPS crime fiction series.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

My writing style is much like any of my writings in that it is a work in progress.  My focus on developing a crime series came out of a direct desire to share the perspectives and stories of child protective services (CPS).  When working as a caseworker for my state’s CPS, I often felt that it was awe inspiring how little the public knew about the process or the atrocities.  I wanted to investigate both the families’ perspectives and the CPS workers’ perspectives in order to garner understanding, support and reform for CPS.  These are lofty goals but most of my writing originates from a push to understand, explore and share.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

My background is in non-profits, social work and teaching.  I began and ran my own non-profit to promote empathy and compassion through action—youth volunteerism.  I then worked at a child advocacy non-profit for children in foster care, followed by work at a women’s homeless shelter and then as a caseworker for child protective services. Most recently, I joined Teach for America and taught English Language Arts at a middle school in Camden, NJ.  A motley background. 

These career choices unknowingly pushed me forward to writing professionally as the number of intense stories I was collecting in my mind’s database was too much to bear.  I felt compelled to write.  I draw on my personal experiences through my work to influence everything in my writing including character traits and behaviours, settings, and recurring themes.  I see fiction writing as a soul cleansing process that can give voices to the previously voiceless.

How do you draw on your work as a social worker to create your series?

My work as a CPS social worker is directly correlated to my creation of the CPS series, obviously.  I enjoy intertwining the reality of the processes that take place from a CPS caseworker perspective in the series.  This includes both the good and the bad as there is an overwhelming amount of both in practice.  This is also an unexplored area in literature which has made the writing of the series important to me.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

My books within the CPS series are equal parts crime and thriller/horror.  A reader knows upon picking one up that they will be reading about an actual atrocity that happened to a child.  Every book in the series is a fictional account of an actual child protective services’ case that has ended in tragedy and press headlines.  I think readers are drawn to this format because, like me, they want to understand how it could happen. 

There are overarching questions that I address—why couldn’t society protect our most vulnerable children from such horrific crimes?  Who is at fault?  Are there things that can be done that would change future outcomes?  Are there actually heroes and villains?

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

The CPS series is easy to write.  Well, that may be an unfair assessment as easy is not the best descriptor.  I’d say, the basis for the story has already been hashed out in the press, so it is easier to write than my works of literary fiction that were inspired from within.  I can write character descriptions, motives and actions quickly, allowing me more time with the plot and setting.  As such, I have not had any writer’s block as I’ve fully researched all available media on the incident prior.  I pull it back up often during the process to reflect, but that’s about it.  In this way, inspiration is overflowing and relentless which comes with its own set of issues.

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

This is an interesting question.  I would like to work with John Steinbeck on a second novel that picks up where Grapes of Wrath left off.  When reading this book with my son, I found that much of what was written applies currently.  I was struck with this desire to ask Mr. Steinbeck what he thinks about the condition of the world today.  His book ends with a homeless mother breastfeeding a dying man during the dust bowl in the United States.  There is no happy ending, only lessons to be learned.  I worry that we have yet to learn these lessons and think this needs new exploration through writing.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

The CPS series is my focus right now and I continue to be excited about it.  I hope to release the first book, CPS: Headless, officially in March of 2021.  Until then, I continue to refine and work, refine and work. 

I was told that I must establish an online presence and am new to the online writing world entirely.  Navigating this is also exciting and overwhelming.  With that in mind here’s some of my details if you wish to follow me: Twitter @CPS_Author, website @, Facebook @ AuthorMicheleRodriguez, Patreon @MicheleRodriguez.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Since the pandemic in March led to school closing in New Jersey where I live, I have been reading books with my fourteen-year-old son.  This has been a brilliant and bonding experience for us.  Over the summer we completed Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, Night by Elie Wiesel, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  We are currently muddling through J.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  As such, I have put off reading or anticipating new books or modern writers.  The silver lining here is that I have a lot of good reading to anticipate in the future!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for this opportunity. 

Massive thanks to Michele for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to learn more about your amazing work. 

How Trump’s Dirty Election Tactics Will Inspire Future Political Fiction Writers

donald trump political thrillers

Even devout Trump supporters can’t argue with the fact that the US president is currently trying to sabotage the November election in every way possible.

Whether it’s removing post boxes to inciting riots, he’s desperate to cling to power that he’ll stop at nothing. In that respect, he is comparable to many of the villains in some of the world’s best political crime fiction.

That’s about the only way in which he can be compared; facts really are stranger than fiction, as some of the many books about Trump prove. He isn’t the handsome, charming or charismatic leader that most political thriller writers base their plots around. Instead, he’s an overgrown child who took advantage of America’s racism and unrest to win a prestigious political position that he isn’t remotely fit to hold.

As a result, Trump now offers a myriad of exciting possibilities for the crime fiction market. The president in most political thrillers is much more intelligent and, surprisingly, less corrupt than the actual reality TV star turned president currently ruining one of the world’s biggest superpowers.

Political fiction has always taken fact and real life scenarios as its basis, even if it then turns the facts into incredible fictional tales. Most political thrillers feature highly recognisable characters, which are clearly based on real life politicians and leaders. That’s part of the joy of reading political fiction; sifting through and trying to uncover the influence that real life has had on the book. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not, but it’s always there.

As such, in the near future, I’m expecting a load of thrillers that bring to life a character that’s as large as life as the Donald himself. Political writers are already using presidential corruption as a plot point; for example, James McCrone’s amazing novel Emergency Powers tells the tale of a plot to install a dummy president into the White House to give power to a dangerous secret terrorist syndicate.

However, even McCrone, with his incredible creative writing talents, wasn’t able to envisage behaviour as abhorrent and undemocratic as what Trump is doing right now in America. The man is simultaneously unhinged and deeply devious, in ways that are almost too crazy to be believed. What’s perhaps even more insane is that there are republican politicians out there actually willing to defend and support a president who is only so desperate to cling to office because he knows that, if he is outvoted later in the year, then he could face prison for his crimes during the presidency.

Honestly, I think that, before Trump actually came into power and started behaving like this, if a fiction book was published that depicted what’s going on right now, it would be derided as unrealistic. It seems almost impossible that a sitting president would do things like encourage voters to illegally vote twice while at the same time sabotaging postal votes and making racist, derogatory comments about his own people.

The man is currently encouraging domestic terrorism and praising white shooters who murder innocent bystanders, while lambasting peaceful protestors. If this were written in a novel, critics would be crying out that no would stand for this behaviour from someone in so high an office. But now, it’s actually happening in real life, which means that authors can use it as the inspiration for their work.

I’m looking forward to books where I can really see that Trump is the inspiration, and that authors are condemning his disgusting behaviour. It’ll be great to see the future of fiction rise up against this dictator and portray a world in which he is more widely condemned and punished for his despicable actions.

Overall, 2020 has been a crazy year for a load of reasons. One of the craziest has been Trump and his handling of every situation that life throws at him and his country. I’m excited to see how future writers will handle his behaviour and what he will inspire in the world of political fiction. I’m also bloody looking forward to the American public seeing sense and voting this mad dictator out in November. Until then, his on going insanity will add fuel to the fire of upcoming novels with insane presidents and corrupt politicians at their centres.

Gathering Dark Review: An Unstoppable Thriller You’ll Devour In One Go

gathering dark

As I promised in my previous post, today I’m reviewing Candice Fox’s gripping new thriller Gathering Dark.

Jumping straight into the action, the novel begins with the robbery of a cartel owned gas station by a frightened young woman with a gun. The woman working the night shift is Blair Harbour, known as ‘The Neighbor Killer’ after she shot her next-door neighbour more than 10 years ago.

She claimed he was hurting his girlfriend, but the girlfriend herself denied it and claimed the attack was unprovoked. After spending 10 years in prison, Blair is now out and determined to make a fresh start for herself and the young son she gave birth to as she began her sentence.

Her hopes of a normal life vanish when her former cellmate, a drug-taking thief, shows up unannounced and proclaims that the woman who held Blair up at knifepoint was her daughter, with whom she has a tempestuous relationship.

The girl is missing, and Blair is quickly drawn into the messy world of this young woman. Teaming up with another former jailbird, this one now a powerful gangster, and the policewoman who put her away, Blair tries to navigate LA’s sleazy underbelly to find the missing girl and bring her home.

This central plot links nicely with Fox’s myriad of sub-plots, including police corruption, a huge inheritance given to a police officer for a job well done, millions of dollars worth of missing money from a bank job gone wrong, and Blair’s fight for the truth about what happened to get sent to prison.

While most of the sub-plots are intriguing and help to drive the narrative forward, this last one is full of plot holes. The police case rested on flimsy evidence, which would suggest a serious lack of care from the officers involved, yet Fox still tries to push the idea that the cop now helping Blair, Jessica Sanchez, is some sort of epitome of professionalism and diligence.

That’s despite the fact that she led the case, yet didn’t even complete the bare minimum of checks before sending an innocent woman to prison for a decade. The case rested on an uneaten sandwich and a lack of a motive for the victim to attack his girlfriend, but the sandwich wasn’t DNA tested and the motive could’ve been found with even a routine background check on the victim and his girlfriend- as it eventually is when Sanchez starts applying herself.

Aside from this glaring plot hole, the novel is incredibly well written and intriguing. Once you get over the slight issue of this poor plotting, you can see that Fox has crafted an incredible cast of characters. Her dialogue is flawless and there’s a surprise around every corner, so the reader is constantly kept guessing.

All of the chapters are written in a series of different styles, including the form of letters between the missing girl and an incarcerated felon, as well as the from the viewpoint of Blair, written in the first person, and from the viewpoint of Jessica, written in the third. As such, there’s a clear distinction between each chapter and the reader is constantly on the edge of their seat.

The city of Los Angeles comes alive and becomes another character to add to the list of those who are working to achieve their own agenda. All of Fox’s characters are working towards their own ends, with Blair and the story of the missing girl caught up in the middle. Through the tangled web of stories the reader wades, getting more invested in the story by the chapter. By the end, you’re so immersed in the story that you might fail to realise, as I did, that you’ve been reading several hours past your bedtime.

From the ending, it’s clear that Fox is setting up for a sequel, or possibly even a series, based on the characters in Gathering Dark, and I for one am excited to see what’s in store for Blair, Jessica and the rest. It might not be perfect, but this is a contender for one of the best thrillers of 2020, so any follow up is bound to be good. If it’s even half as engaging and intriguing as this novel, then it’ll be a gripping read that I definitely don’t want to miss out on.

Nicola Cornick Interview: “Bias in historical reporting has always fascinated me”

Nicola author

As a fan of novels with strong female protagonists, I’m proud to share my interview with Nicola Cornick, whose work focuses on pioneering, innovative women in history.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. Why did you choose to write historical fiction?

Thank you very much for inviting me to your blog today. It wasn’t a conscious choice to write historical fiction. I started writing when I was a child and simply told the stories that I was interested in. As I loved history, all of these were historical! Now that I write timeslip fiction I do have to write a contemporary thread in my novels as well and although I hope I have improved at this, it doesn’t feel instinctive like it does to write a historical setting.

What is it about strong female historical figures that interests you and why do you choose them as the subject of much of your work?

As part of my studies for my Public History MA I looked at those people whose history had either not been recorded at all or was recorded from someone else’s perspective. Bias in historical reporting has always fascinated me, whether it’s the victor’s account of a battle or a monk’s perspective on a specific historical woman, for example. At the same time, I was working at Ashdown House as a researcher for the National Trust and became interested in the story of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia. So much of the writing about Elizabeth portrays her as a stereotypical beautiful princess, a damsel in distress, and she actually used this propaganda herself to gain support, so in part that’s not surprising. However, I also found that most writers dismissed her cultural and political achievements completely. This prompted me to look not only at the bias against Elizabeth but also to extend that to other women who are either missing from the historical record completely, or are a footnote to the history of a more famous man. I was sure that they also had a story to tell – and they do.

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

I studied history at university but then wasn’t sure what to do with it so I worked as a university administrator for many years before I became a full-time writer. My writing was always there is the background but I wrote and re-wrote the same manuscript about ten times before I mustered the courage to send it to a publisher, so whilst I did get my first book published, it still took twelve years to do so! It then took another ten years before I could give up my day job to focus completely on writing. 

How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I seldom consciously draw on my own past when I’m writing fiction but I do find that elements of my life experience and aspects of the people I meet slip into my writing all the time. Sometimes I don’t even make the connection until much later; evidence that the unconscious mind is working away all the time, I suppose!

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

I’m thrilled that readers are drawn to my books and particularly appreciate it when they let me know they have enjoyed a book. For years I worked in an office environment where teamwork and feedback helped to motivate me. Going from that to solitary working was quite a shock.

From what readers have told me, they enjoy the fact that I write about strong women and explore their roles in a variety of historical settings. I try to make the history elements of the book as authentic as possible and people seem to appreciate learning some of the lesser-known characters and aspects of an era in an accessible way. I want the books to be page turning and entertaining, and readers seem to enjoy the humour!

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

Wow, what an interesting question! From my experience I’d say that collaborating with other authors can be quite a challenge but you can also learn a lot in the process. I’d love to work on a writing project with Sir Walter Scott. I recently discovered that he stayed in my village when he was researching a book and I imagine we could have some fascinating conversations about writing style, the popularity of historical fiction, marketing (since he was terrific at that) and how important is historical accuracy (since he wasn’t such a stickler for that!)

What do you like reading and how does it inform your work?

I love reading crime fiction and am currently reading my way through Elly Griffiths’ Dr Ruth Galloway series. As I reader I particularly enjoy writing that has a strong sense of place. I enjoy a lot of romantic fiction in all its guises. My other reading is mainly non-fiction history and travelogue, or books that combine the two.

Out of interest, how do you think future historical fiction writers will react to the pandemic? What do you think that future novels will focus on?

It’s fascinating to speculate on the different ways in which the pandemic might be viewed with hindsight. There seem to be some common themes and responses to pandemics throughout history that will no doubt emerge again; anger and despair with the fate that allows such things to happen and fury with governments who are accused of being in denial or acting too slowly or inefficiently. Pandemics have always led to rumour and misinformation and a big theme in the current one will probably be the role of social media.

What future projects can you share with us? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about?

I have a book out next summer, which tackles one of the biggest historical mysteries of all time – the murder of the Princes in the Tower. As I like to focus on lesser-known female figures in history, it’s written from the point of view of Anne Lovell, wife of Francis Lovell who was King Richard III’s closest friend. I’m pretty excited about that book; I’ve wanted to write it for a long time.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to checking out in the future?

I have a lot of new titles on my kindle that I’m looking forward to reading on my holiday later this month including the Golden Rule by Amanda Craig and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, plus the latest in some romantic fiction series by the ever-fabulous Lucy Parker, Emily Larkin and Anna Campbell.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for inviting me and for such thoughtful questions.

Massive thanks to Nicola for doing my interview; it’s amazing to hear about your work and what you love to read!