Juliet Bell Interview: “It helps that we both respect each other’s ability”

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Apologies for the delay in posting- I’ve been in Australia exploring tropical Queensland. As a treat now that I’m back, I’m sharing an interview I undertook with two incredible writers- Alison May and Janet Gover, who, coincidentally, is from the incredible country that I’ve just had the fortune to visit. Together they write as Juliet Bell, creating intriguing re-workings of classic novels, something I was keen to find out more about.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards creating modern retellings of classic novels?

We first discussed The Heights in the bar at a writing conference. We’d both taught workshops that day, and both used Wuthering Heights as examples of very different points we were making. We only knew each other slightly, but over a glass of wine we started talking about how many people misremembered the Bronte book and focussed on the romance, rather than the darkness of the story.

Janet had always wanted to do an adaptation set against the Thatcher years and the miners’ strike, but being Australian didn’t think she could write a North of England book. Alison is from Yorkshire, so fairly late in the evening, we announced we would do it together. A week or so later, when the wine had worn off, we talked again and decided that wasn’t actually a completely terrible idea.

Sharing a pen-name with another author must be an incredible experience. Please talk me through how you work together to create your books. How do you combine your collective skills?

Spreadsheets. We both love a good spreadsheet. Well, perhaps Janet more than Alison, but she’s coming around. We have started each book with a really good plan of how to divide the work and we stick to it – for at least the first two, or maybe three, weeks. We both have our own solo writing careers and deadlines, and of course the same family commitments everyone has. Neither of us normally plots our books in advance, but when writing together we have to, which is where the spreadsheets come in.

With The Heights, we ran out of time, so Janet was still writing Cathy and Heathcliff when Alison started writing Kate and the second generation. With Jane Eyre, we are each writing one main character’s point of view. We both review and comment on and edit the whole book, which sounds crazy but seems to work.

It helps that we both respect each other’s ability – and that we meet regularly for pizza and wine.

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

Alison: I started writing seriously in my mid-twenties, when I signed up for an evening class in creative writing as a distraction from a not altogether fascinating day job. The evening class turned into a part-time degree. At the start of the course I thought I was going to be a very Serious and Important playwright. I started a terribly earnest play about Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton as my dissertation piece. When it got to six weeks before the deadline and I hadn’t actually written any words I admitted that serious theatre might not be my calling and wrote the opening of a romantic comedy novel instead. That novel eventually turned into my first published book, Sweet Nothing, which came out in 2013.

Janet: I started writing stories when I was a kid growing up in the Australian bush. There wasn’t much else to do apart from ride horses and read – and I did a lot of both. I went to University in the ‘big city’ and then became a journalist and television reporter. That was fun – I got to travel and meet a lot of interesting people. Then I discovered computers, fell in love with them and set out on a second career in IT. That was when I started writing fiction seriously. I thought switching from writing fact to writing fiction would be easy. How wrong I was. But I stuck with it and now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

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

We are both always coming up with shiny new book ideas- it’s terribly distracting. The problem is locking them in a drawer until current book is written.

Actually writing is much trickier than having ideas. Alison, in particular, actively dislikes writing first drafts. She sees them as a necessary evil to get to the editing, which is where the actual real work of creating the book gets done. Her tip is to get through the first draft as quickly as possible, even if it’s terrible. Then at least you’ve got something to work with.

The Bronte adaptations are obviously inspired by the original books, and by the women who wrote them. The books have themes and characters that still resonate today. That’s a remarkable achievement.

Juliet Bell is the place we take our shared fascination with misunderstood classic literature, and heroes who aren’t actually all that heroic.

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

Alison: Without even looking I know Janet will say Neil Gaiman, which is interesting because I’m going to say Terry Pratchett. Basically we both want to have written Good Omens! Obviously Pratchett is no longer with us, and realistically if I’d every tried to collaborate with him I would probably just have ended up gabbling at him incoherently in a pathetic fangirl sort of a way.

If I go for someone who’s still alive, I’d indulge my secret dream of writing a musical (despite having zero musical ability) and go for Tim Minchin.

Janet: A really tough question, but I’d have to say Neil Gaiman. He’s one of my favourite authors. He has such a brilliant mind. I’ve seen him speak a couple of times. He is funny and thoughtful and angry and all those things that make a great writer. He’s also very cute in scruffy writerly way. Of course, if I ever found myself face to face with him, I’d probably explode in a mass of fan-girl excitement, so possibly not the best collaborator in the world.

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

We are now in the final stages of writing the second Juliet Bell book. It’s another Bronte book – Jane Eyre of course. Rochester is another ‘romantic hero’ we don’t love. His behaviour is not so heroic, and we don’t just mean locking his wife in the attic.

We’ve set this book in Australia. This is Janet’s revenge for having to write about Yorkshire in The Heights. It’s also a modern setting with the kind of isolation that still allows someone to be kept in an attic without the neighbours anyone catching on.

Jane’s story of fighting to make her way in the world still resonates today, but we have done a couple of radical things in this book. We’re excited (and maybe a little bit afraid) to see people’s reactions.

We don’t have a final title yet – our working title is simply Thornfield. Whatever the final title, it will be out in November in both eBook and paperback.

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

Alison: So many – I’ve just read AJ Pearce’s Dear Mrs Bird which came out in April and is wonderful. I’m always excited for Julie Cohen’s new books – her last one Together was one of my favourites of last year. I also work a lot with newer and developing writers, and there are a few – Pippa James, Kirsten Hesketh and Erin Green spring to mind straight away – who have projects in the pipeline that sound amazing. And, Janet’s latest solo book – Marrying the Rebel Prince is at the top of my To Read pile at the moment. That looks like it’s going to be fantastic fun.

Janet: This would be a very, very long list. My list of ‘must buy’ authors is quite long and varied. And I love finding a new author – especially if they have a long backlist. But – and I mean this honestly – I’m really looking forward to Alison’s new solo book, All That Was Lost – which is out in September. She’s told me a bit about it, and it sounds amazing.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Janet: We often meet readers who say they’re nervous about emailing an author, or telling them how much they love a book. Please don’t be. We don’t get out much and hearing from readers is really important to us. So, if you like a book, email the author, or tweet to them. Write a review for them. Those are the things that make us happy as we sit in our tiny offices, staring at those terrifying blank documents on our computers.

Alison: Yes. Absolutely, do get in touch. Chat to us. Talk to us about books, writing, biscuits, or even an interesting stain you’ve found on your pyjama top. We are expert in all of these areas.

Thank you for having us Hannah x

Thanks you both for your time, it has been a pleasure. You can find out more about their partnership and the work they produce together HERE.

 

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A.B. Patterson Interview: “I spent most of my police career as a detective”

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This week I caught up with former Detective A.B. Patterson to learn more about his writing and how he draws on his time in the police to help him create memorable crime fiction.

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

I didn’t set out to write crime fiction when I first started messing around with words. However, that old advice of “write what you know”, combined with (starting about ten years ago) reading a lot more crime fiction, prevailed pretty quickly. I do want to write other stuff as well- more on that later!

Style-wise, I am firmly in the hard-boiled and noir camps with my crime fiction. I enjoy reading that style immensely, and so it came naturally to try writing in it. And the more I do, the more comfortable I am with it. One of my big likes about this style of crime fiction is its accent on characters and social commentary. To me, those two aspects are more important than plot. So my writing is gritty and realistic – not for the faint-hearted!

How do you draw on your past as a policeman in your writing?

I spent most of my police career as a detective, and most of that working in child abuse and paedophilia. Then vice squad for my last 18 months before I resigned. I’ve also worked in investigating government corruption since I was a cop. So, it’s the wealth of experience in terms of cases I’ve worked on and the types of people I’ve met, both in crime and corruption work, that have given me a treasure trove of material on which to base my fiction. I’ll run out of time in my life before I run out of story ideas. I’m very fortunate in that regard. Connected to this is my deep-seated loathing of power abuse, whether it be victimization by criminals, corruption by government people, or workplace bullying. My background, both personal and professional, has me wanting to look after the underdog, so this comes through in my writing, as it is a driving force in me.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

Sure I want to spin (hopefully) good yarns which entertain people, but one of my big motivating factors in wanting to write is to tell people what actually goes on out in society, both in terms of crime and corruption. The majority of the storylines I’ve used so far are based on truth, to varying degrees. So the sorts of criminal acts and corrupt behaviours you read in my work do actually occur out there.

I also get a kick out of being able to have my main protagonist achieve a certain justice, when in reality this often is not the outcome, sadly. And I like to have a PI as my main character, rather than a cop, as that allows less adherence to the rules. He can be more flawed, which is so much fun.

I’m not at the “popular” stage yet, too early in my writing career. But I do intend to write for the rest of my life, so I’m in it for the long term. If I become popular, then great. What I really want is just to be able to earn a living out of writing, and not have to do more mundane work. When I get to that point, I’ll be a very happy man.

Of course, being a self-published author means that there’s a long road to build one’s profile and grow a readership. So, all the more reason to work hard at it.

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

Well, as earlier discussed, my professional background and the cases I’ve worked on are a huge inspiration. So is the desire to tell people what goes on in society, even though it is dressed up as fiction. I also come up with random ideas when I see things. I always carry a notebook so those flashes of inspiration can be jotted down and not lost to the daily noise of life.

For example, I saw a TV documentary a few weeks ago about trafficked African girls working as prostitutes in Italy. That gave me a germ of an idea for a short story, which is now complete and has been submitted to a magazine in the US. You just never know when ideas will come up. If I sit down and try to come up with ideas and write, then sometime that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Earlier on, I used to get frustrated with writer’s block (we all get it along the way). Now, I find it easier in two ways. The first is that as I have become more disciplined at writing most days, even if it’s only for 20 to 30 minutes, I am finding that words flow much more easily. It’s almost as if productivity breeds itself. The second point is that I don’t let myself sit there and get frustrated any more – I simply put the pen down and go and do other related tasks, like research or editing some previous writing. The pernicious trap of writer’s block is that it also feeds on itself.

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

What a great question. And so hard to choose an answer. Well, for my style of crime writing, there’d be a few deceased authors – Ross Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, James Crumley all jump out. But I’m going to go with a living author – Ken Bruen from Ireland. An American reviewer likened my style to Bruen’s, and I love his books. Why? Because he writes it gritty and noir with flawed people everywhere – exactly the world I write in. I could pick several others, but I’d be here a while.

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

Absolutely. The manuscript for my second novel, Harry’s Quest, is in final editing stages now and I expect to publish it in July/August this year. It’s the sequel to Harry’s World.

I’m also working on a number of short stories, and I’ve decided to put together a set of them into a book, either later this year or early next. I have written a number of Harry short stories, but in the first person rather than the third, so this has been a fascinating adventure, writing my main man as “I” instead.

Another project I started a while ago, but need to get back to, is a novella called The Scent of the Wattle. It’s a dark tale about child abuse and paedophilia, fiction still, but very much drawing on the work I did in that area. Again, there are things I want to say and put out there.

And I alluded to writing other genres before. One of my favourite reading genres, aside from crime, is dystopian fiction. So I definitely want to try my hand at that. And, of course, the more I sit and think about it, the more project ideas that will emerge. I love that about being a writer.

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

I’m a hopeless addict when it comes to buying books, so my TBR piles are huge, despite the fact that I read on average a book a week – my target for this year is 60, and I’m on track. I’ve been getting into crime and pulp anthology magazines since last year, hence my foray into short story writing, of which I’ve had two published now in Switchblade magazine, an excellent hard-boiled and noir anthology. Aside from the short story being a wonderful format, and I think even more appealing in the current age with people being so time-poor, these anthologies are a great way to find new authors. And then you can go looking for their books if you like their style. So I have “discovered” many indie crime writers and am starting to read their books. Some favourites so far are: Preston Lang, Alec Cizak, Scotch Rutherford, Todd Robinson, J.D.Graves, and Travis Richardson.

There is so much good writing out there, especially in the indie and self-publishing worlds. I think a lot of the best writing out there is overlooked by the mainstream publishing industry, which, after all, is purely commercial in its interests.

If I could give some advice to my younger self, a key point would be “Read more!” Oh, and another one would be “Write!” I wish I’d started that earlier. Still, I’m trying to make up for it now.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for showing an interest in speaking with me. Aside from having to do “other work” to pay the rent and bills, I do feel very fortunate to have found exactly what I want to spend the rest of my days on this planet doing. I just want to write more and more.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions; it’s been a pleasure hearing from you. You can find out more about him and his writing HERE

Corrupted Review: A Slick Thriller That Will Keep You Guessing

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After reviewing and enjoying The Lighterman I was interested to check out the fourth book in the Charles Holborne thriller series, Corrupted. I compared the previous novel in the series to John le Carré’s work in my review, and as I read Corrupted I could not help but feel that my opinion was completely justified thanks to the exquisite characterisation and the exacting nature of the dogged lawyer Charles Holborne. 

In the latest instalment in this gripping series our intrepid protagonist is settling into his perfect life: he has a girlfriend, his job is going great and things are generally peachy. This is the swinging sixties, and author Simon Michael evokes a great atmosphere that crackles with tension as he catapults his character from homely bliss to underworld grime as he cavorts with gangsters and thieves in a bit to take down the notorious Kray twins.

The plot escalates quickly, and pretty soon Charles is out of happy land and into some strong shit, as he starts courting scandal and contending with threats to his life while investigating a sex ring that involves not just the Krays and the Mafia, but extends up to the very echelons of the UK’s power.

Skilfully blending history with a fast paced narrative to create a suspenseful story, Michael showcases his creative prowess with a novel that is almost instantly classic. The integration of real historical figures adds an extra dimension that keeps the reader hooked throughout. Blending snappy dialogue with strong characterisation, the novel runs away with the reader and leaves them wanting more with each jaw-dropping, suspense-filled chapter.

So if you’re looking for some old-school espionage with elegance then look no further. With strong characters, quick conversation and an exceptional plot, Corrupted is a truly awesome thriller that will leave you coming back for more.

Non-Fiction Bank Holiday Reads To Get You Feeling Informed

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A couple of weeks ago I had a rare whole week to myself. I treated myself to a week away from work, told everyone to fuck off and took myself and a good book to a posh marina for an ice cream and a quiet read.

The book in question was Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. A friend of mine had lent me the book but I hadn’t made time for it; what with the reviews I do I always have a huge stack of books just waiting to be read.

Making time to read some non-fiction was awesome, and I really enjoyed it. The book is incredibly descriptive and provides unique insight into a jumbled and disruptive White House. What impressed me the most was the fact that, despite my adoring the escapism that fiction offers, I truly enjoyed my foray into non-fiction.

Which got me thinking: for the Bank Holiday, when everyone has plenty of time on their hands, maybe now is the time to be checking out the latest non-fiction awesomeness. There’s so much going on in the realm of non-fiction, with the current political landscape bringing forth a wide variety of commentaries and historical books looking to showcasing the similarities. There’s a book called The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump, which aims to find poetic meaning in the President’s ramblings, a book that aims to educate those who want to find out more about British policies called How Britain Really Works: Understanding the Ideas and Institutions of a Nation, and, for those seeking real insight on American politics, Hillary Clinton’s biography, which will offer you more education and knowledge than anything even remotely Trump-related.

For those who aren’t so politically minded, there are a lot of biographies and autobiographies out there right now too, although Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which promises to be fascinating, won’t be published until November. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay looks set to be a great, funny exploration of the trials of a Junior Doctor which would make for intriguing reading. Also, major celebrities such as Russell Brand, Bruce Dickinson and Robert Webb have autobiographies out so that you can find out more about your favourite celebrity no matter what you’re preference.

So as you stretch out on the last day of your Bank Holiday relaxation, why not check out some non-fiction and educate yourself before you return to the drudgery and mundanity of normal life.

Fred Shackelford Interview: “There’s something to be learned from every writer’s style”

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For those of you who fancy reading an exciting new author interview this Bank Holiday I spoke to Fred Shackelford, author of the innovative thriller The Ticket, to find out more about what makes him tick!

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

The Ticket has a plot-driven style. I attempted to write a page-turner with lots of twists and turns to move the story along at a quick pace. The plot revolves around a missing lottery ticket that will become worthless if it expires, so the tension mounts as the deadline approaches. The character development emerges primarily through dialog. The book’s style is dark because I created several very sinister characters that readers will love to hate. However, other characters are more sympathetic – perhaps even heroic.

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

I’m an attorney who writes legal memoranda and briefs, so much of my professional writing is in a somewhat dry, technical style. However, some intriguing cases do inspire my creative thoughts. I’ve enjoyed venturing into fiction writing with The Ticket, as I have far more freedom in terms of style, vocabulary and subject matter in my role as a novelist. I draw on my past when I develop composite characters that possess traits that I’ve seen in people I’ve actually met.

With regards to the books you read, do you have any particular favourite writers or series?

My favourite author is John Grisham. When I began reading The Firm years ago, I couldn’t put the book down until I finished it. Coincidentally, Grisham and I live in the same county in Virginia, and I was fortunate to meet him one time in a local bookstore when I dropped in to sign a few copies of The Ticket. The owner invited me into a private room, where Grisham was busy autographing a huge stack of books.

I also enjoy the Henry Spearman mystery series by Ken Elzinga, who writes under the pen name Marshall Jevons. Elzinga’s protagonist is an amateur sleuth who solves crimes by applying economic analysis. Other authors of interest are John F. Jebb, III, Alden Bigelow, Janet Martin and Mary Morony.

How important do you believe variety in reading material is for a writer?

That’s very important. There’s something to be learned from every writer’s style, even though in rare cases the lesson is how not to write!

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

I developed the basic theme of The Ticket from a newspaper article about an unclaimed lottery jackpot. I tried to imagine an interesting scenario to explain why someone might wait until the last minute to cash in a winning ticket. When I experience writer’s block, I often take a break and stop trying to force an idea onto paper. Sometimes it helps just to walk outside and watch the world go by.

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

I think it would be fun to work with Charles Dickens. I love the rich imagery in the text of A Christmas Carol. It would be a treat to get advice from such a creative author.

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

I may try to write a screenplay based on The Ticket. The formatting and style of a screenplay are markedly different from a novel, so it would not be easy. But writing my first novel wasn’t easy either, so we’ll see how it goes. Many readers have encouraged me to write a sequel to The Ticket, but it’s more likely that my next book will be a stand-alone novel. I’ve been mulling over some plot ideas. Some of them involve buried treasure, but that theme is a cliché, so I may have to come up with something more imaginative.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I hope everyone who reads this interview will rush out and buy a copy of The Ticket!

Thanks to Fred for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Fred and his work HERE.

 

 

 

Dead If You Don’t Review: A Realistic Police Procedural For Thrill Seekers

dead if you don't

Having previously reviewed- and loved- Peter James’ novel Need You Dead, I had high hopes for Dead If You Don’t, the latest in the world renowned DCI Roy Grace series.

Enjoying a football game with his recently discovered son in an attempt at father-son bonding, Grace is drawn into a horrific crime as the son of an established businessman and compulsive gambler is abducted. Racing against time, Grace and his team work to uncover both the kidnappers and their motives, exposing many of the father’s secrets in the process.

Exploring the issue of child abduction, James handles the crime sensitively, and the novel is both realistic and tense, dragging the reader along as Grace works tirelessly to uncover the truth and rescue the child before it’s too late.

As in the previous novels in the series, James’ expert research shines through, and the author’s strong understanding and knowledge of police procedure and the UK’s legal system ensures that readers get a realistic glimpse into the life of a top London detective.

One thing I don’t quite get is the names; James’ characterisation is excellent as ever, but I couldn’t stop laughing at key character named ‘Kip’, and, perhaps even better, ‘Mungo’, Kip’s son and the kidnap victim. Somehow these ridiculous names make it hard for me to take the narrative entirely seriously, particularly when Mungo is snatched.

Despite this minor drawback, I find the novel as engaging as any of James’ books. Both his standalone novels and his DCI Grace books have a sort of compelling charm and fast paced narrative that propels the reader through and has them hooked to the very end.

As I turned the final page I was utterly spellbound by James’ exquisite storytelling and exceptional characterisation. This is a great modern police procedural that keeps you hooked until the nail-biting finale.

 

The Top Five Best Inspector Alleyn Novels For the True Golden Age Fan

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After my recent review of Money in the Morgue, the latest novel by Ngaio Marsh, which was finished by Stella Duffy, I decided that it was high time I did a top five list for my favourite Inspector Alleyn novels.

Cerebral, scholarly and dependable, Alleyn is a strong, proud policeman who is committed to solving often impossibly complicated crimes. Class, race and sexuality are all explored, with Marsh, a renowned New Zealand novelist, using her detective books to make numerous statements. I was an avid Marsh reader when at University, and over the years I have found many favourites, which I am really happy to share with you! Perfect for Golden Age fans looking for something new, or an avid Marsh fan looking to see what I think, there is something for everyone in my list of my favourite books featuring this stoic, intellectual detective.

5. Opening Night: Marsh is renowned for her novels focusing on the theatrical market, and Opening Night is a really good example of this. There’s a murder of a actor backstage on opening night at a London theatre, leaving Inspector Alleyn to look into the crime. Marsh understands the competitive, gossip-ridden world of theatre intimately, and as such her theatrical novels are works of genius that readers, whether they are fans or new arrivals to the bandwagon, will enjoy.

4. Vintage Murder: The leading lady of a travelling theatre troupe circumnavigating New Zealand is suspected of killing her husband at her own birthday party. With Inspector Alleyn in attendance, something goes horribly wrong during the celebrations and her pudgy, not particularly attractive husband and theatre manager is bludgeoned to death is particularly theatrical style. As Alleyn digs deeper into the victim’s marital and theatrical lives, he   finds a tangled web of secrets, lies and affairs of the heart that baffles and mystifies, keeping the reader guessing until the very end.

3. Death And The Dancing Footman: Partially set in my native and beloved Dorset, this fascinating novel portrays a malicious millionaire’s attempt to cause chaos by inviting a selection of ardent enemies to a house party for his own amusement. When the fun stops and a member of the party turns to murder, Alleyn is called in to find the culprit from among this seedy cast of characters and draw out the culprit and their motive. Another example of how class and business are used by Marsh to convey the very worst of human nature, this is a character study as much as it is a work of genius detective fiction, making it a great read for Golden Age fans looking for an exceptional example of work from this seminal period in the history of Crime Fiction.

2. Death In A White Tie: I’ve always enjoyed novels that explore the class divide, and this is an exceptional example. As the social season begins, the high-class members of London society are descending on the city’s most fashionable hotspots. Amid this excitement a blackmailer lurks, seeking to profit from the secrets and sins of the rich and famous. Alleyn, set on finding the fiend and bringing them to justice, invites an old friend, Lord Robert Gospell, to help him in his quest. When a body is discovered in connection with the case, Alleyn is drawn into a complicated and intriguing case that delves deep into the highest echelons of London society.

1. A Man Lay Dead: I am a big believer in reading the first novel in a series first, and whilst this isn’t always the case, in this case it is a really good idea. A murder at a country house party during, ironically enough, a game of ‘murder’, begins Inspector Alleyn’s first published case. A complicated plot including Russian’s, secret societies and class politics keeps the intrepid Chief Inspector busy as he navigates the complicated lives his suspects. A true Golden Age thriller, this is a great starter for a new Marsh reader, as well as a good re-read for a hardened fan.