Hingston’s Box: Review

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Decima’s Blake debut crime novel, Hingston’s Box, is a dark and frightening novel which focuses on the exploitation of children, something the author is passionate about, as emphasised by the fact that a percentage of the book’s profits go to the charity Embrace Child Victims of Crime.

The novel follows the story of Jason Hingston, a Detective Sergeant who is put on medical leave whilst investigating the disappearance of two young twin boys who were on their way home from school when they vanished. Suffering from nightmares and visions, Jason takes his uncle up on his offer to help him redecorate the kitchen in his Dartmouth home, escaping London for the countryside, where he finds a mysterious box which leads him to a mystery which has a creepy connection to the present.

With notes of the supernatural, Hingston’s Box is atmospheric, although I was slightly disappointed that the beautiful Dartmouth setting was underused, with the full potential of the inherently creepy and frightening landscape not realised. However, despite this there is a real old fashioned style and depth to this novel which lends a real tension to the narrative and allows the reader to become really interested in the cases’ conclusion.

It is this interest that is a true testimony of Blake’s narrative skill- the victims themselves hold little inherent fascination, but it is the rich characterisation of the protagonist, Hingston, and the descriptive writing style which draws the reader in. The supernatural elements to the novel are not overstated, and as such it does not fall into the common trap and become farcical, as many other such books can.

Overall this is a truly fascinating book, and one which is difficult to put down. Although it starts off a little slowly, the pace is soon picked up, and the reader will be fully transfixed until the novel’s brilliant conclusion. Hingston himself remains free to start a fresh investigation in a new novel, and personally it is my sincere hope that he does.

The Black Path Review

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Larsson, who is famed for her debut novel The Savage Altar, delivered another stunning piece in the form of The Black Path, the third in her Rebecka Martinsson series.

Although possibly not the most critically acclaimed of Larsson’s books, this is a truly remarkable piece of Nordic Noir which delivers excellent female protagonists and offers readers a glimpse into a remote setting, which is utilised as a secondary character within the novel to provide a rich and evocative narrative.

The novel focuses on the murder of a woman, found completely frozen with various wounds and a clumsily delivered blow to the head, in a remote fishing hut. Prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson and Police Detective Anna-Maria Mella investigate the crime methodically, with the plot delivering many invigorating twists and complications which entice the reader and draw them in.

Right from the start The Black Path is frightening, tense and emotive, offering the very best traits that have made Scandinavian Crime Fiction so incredibly popular around the world in the past few years. The language used is both atmospheric and curt, providing a vivid description of the gruesome violence which Larsson portrays.

Like many of the author’s other novels, what really gives The Black Path its narrative strength is the characterisation, which is both haunting and accurate. With a full plethora of characters, ranging from the traumatised and exhausted investigative protagonists to the eccentric cast of characters which form the suspects and associated cast, including shady businessmen from the mining company which the victim worked for, and which quickly comes under the hostile gaze of Martinsson and Mella.

Ultimately this is a great example of one of Scandinavia’s finest crime writers delivering a fast paced novel which makes a great read, especially as the nights begin to draw in and the weather turns steadily colder.

My Top Five Dorothy L Sayers Novels

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Dorothy L Sayers, the wonderfully talented novelist whose brilliant creation Lord Peter Wimsey captured the imaginations of thousands of readers around the world for many generations, wrote a number of novels including her signature protagonist. Ranging from the early books which were awash with criticism of the first world war, to the later novels in which tackled topics such as sexism and the class divide, Sayers always delivered a crime fiction novel with a moral compass, providing the reader with a stimulating intellectual challenge.

A multi talented writer who was also a renowned poet, translator and playwright, Sayers used Lord Peter as a means to live vicariously, painting a literary picture of a wealthy and sophisticated man about town whilst she herself was impoverished and struggling. Here I select my top five favourite of this inspirational author’s novels featuring the famous foppish sleuth, which will either help you get started on your Wimsey obsession or further your infatuation.

  1. Thrones, Dominations: Sayers’ final, unfinished novel that was polished off by the incredibly skilled Jill Paton Walsh (read my review of her excellent works HERE) is a masterpiece, expertly combining the domestic bliss of the newly married (spoilers!) Lord Peter and Harriet with the latest case, which expertly explores the fabric of society and finds it wanting.
  1. Five Red Herrings: As the title suggests, this is a novel full of twists and turns as Lord Peter desperately attempts to separate fact from fiction in the case of an artist who is murdered at a colony in Scotland. Sayers’ skill has always been characterisation, and this novel showcases this to the fullest as the reader explores the various resentments that linger amongst this group of seemingly pleasant artists who have been thrown by chance. The novel sets a number of puzzles for the reader to solve, and Sayers does not give anything away, providing a real challenge for even the seasoned whodunit reader.
  1. Murder Must Advertise: Like all of Sayers’ works Murder Must Advertise draws on the author’s own experiences, in this instance her previous work in advertising. This is one of the funniest of her works, as Lord Peter finds himself humorously out of his depth as he goes undercover to find out what happened to one of the agency’s copywriters, who fell down the stairs whilst trying to write a letter to the firm’s management exposing a scandal. Supposedly Sayers herself disliked the novel, which she wrote quickly in order to fulfil an obligation to her publisher, but despite this it remains one of her most renowned novels thanks to its ingenious plotting and superb critique of the English class system.
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  1. Whose Body?: The very first introduction to Lord Peter is a thrilling tale of a deceitful murder, perfectly disguised and motivated by lust, hatred and revenge. As introductions go Lord Peter’s is fairly unconventional; he bursts into the novel in search of clues before burning out and suffering from shock as part of his posttraumatic stress, forcing his stoic butler Bunter and dedicated, put upon friend, policeman Charles Parker, to step in and provide the clues. It is always Wimsey who provides the brainpower and the overall solution, and this is evident even his first ever outing.
  1. Lord Peter Views the Body: Although not technically a novel, this thrilling collection of short stories is a great place to join Lord Peter on his adventures. From the bone chilling The Man with the Copper Fingers to the fascinating The Cave of Ali Baba, there is something for everyone in this brilliant collection that explores multiple facets of Lord Peter and Bunter’s detective history.

Grant McKenzie Interview

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Internationally renowned thriller writer Grant McKenzie talks me through his background in journalism, his writing style and just how important his readers are to him.

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

Growing up in Scotland in the 1960s when unemployment, violence and alcoholism was rampant with hair the colour of a blazing sunset, I automatically stood out as a visible minority in a sea of bland blond and dull brunette. And from an early age, I was well aware that this also made me a target. There are a couple of ways to deal with this: become a bad ass or develop the gift of the gab. Needless to say, I wasn’t much of a bad ass. By becoming a storyteller, with lightning fast quips, I was able to make friends and surround myself with the type of people who would watch my back. But I never forgot that I was vulnerable, as were so many others, and this allowed my writing to explore the dark alleyways without losing any of the fear that is necessary for writing that is both identifiable and relatable. This is one of the reasons that my characters tend to be ordinary people ¾ bus drivers, failed actors, photojournalists, child protection officers ¾ rather than kick-ass, Jack Reacher-style super heroes. I often think that many of the young rappers who spit rhythms with jaguar-like reflexes today are tapping into a similar defence mechanism from their own childhoods.

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

I have been writing from a very early age, from plays and short stories while living in Scotland, to tackling my first novel (heavily influenced by S.E. Hinton) as a teenager in Canada. When I landed my first journalism job at a daily tabloid in Canada at age 19, I was placed on the Dead Body Beat where I was responsible for monitoring the police radio and keeping an ear out for any “interesting” dead bodies that popped up during the night. This unique position allowed me to spend a lot of time wondering “what if”, which fed my imagination. As a journalist, I was there to observe and report, which was frustrating when it seemed that justice wasn’t been done. As a fiction writer, however, I could step beyond the boundaries of my profession and seek justice on the page. A good example of that frustration can be seen in my novel K.A.R.M.A., which is an acronym for Kids Against Rape Murder Abuse.

How does your work in journalism influence your novels? How do you draw on this experience when you write?

The main gifts that journalism gave me were the ability to question authority, never be afraid to ask the difficult questions, always be curious, and never stop learning new things. It’s amazing how placing the right phone call to the right person can open a door that you might never have realized you needed. Want to visit a city morgue? Call the coroner. Need information on what it means to be a sniper? Talk to a veteran. If you show genuine interest and respect, most people are happy to talk.

What was behind your decision to write under a pen name as well as your own? How do you believe this impacts on your readers’ perceptions of your work?

I have written three mystery novels under the pen name M.C. Grant, because I didn’t want the readers of those novels to know that I was male. I wrote Angel With A Bullet, Devil With A Gun, and Beauty With A Bomb in first-person female, which was a lot of fun. My protagonist is Dixie Flynn, a fast talking, kick-ass crime reporter who has a tendency to become too involved in her stories and gets in way over her head. Dixie is one of my favourite characters as she puts on such a tough exterior but is a real marshmallow inside. The pen name wasn’t much of a secret so sometimes female readers look for flaws they can point to as being written by a man. Strangely, even though I also write strong female characters in my Grant McKenzie novels, I never get this same criticism for them. Because the writing styles of the two names are so different, I often get readers who love both, and some who prefer one over the other.

Your works have been translated into a number of different languages. How does this affect your work and what do you believe is the secret behind its international success?

Being translated is wonderful, and I wish more of my books were being published in other countries. My current publisher is based in the U.S., and it also distributes the books in the U.K. But if a U.K. publisher bought the rights instead, the book would be given a better opportunity to be in stores, receive professional reviews, etc. The goal of every author is to sell as many foreign rights as possible, as that is the only way to ensure some success in those countries. I have been fortunate in that some of my books have been translated and published in Germany, China, Taiwan, etc., but I am always bugging my agent to sell more foreign rights. For example, French thriller readers love Harlan Coben, an author I often get compared to, so why am I not in France yet? Or Spain or Brazil. The secret is really about finding an agent who tells the world how wonderful you are, and convinces publishers to take a chance on you.

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

As a teenager, I scoured every used bookstore I could find until I had every Mickey Spillane paperback he ever wrote. I loved the hard-boiled language, violence and non-stop thrills. Before he passed away, I had this idea of reaching out to him to collaborate on a novel about Mike Hammer and Velda’s estranged son. I think it would have been magical.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

The Butcher’s Son is my tenth novel and the final book in my latest contract, so I am currently trying to decide what my next move should be. I do have an interesting plot bubbling in my head though.

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

I always get excited when I hear of a new Robert McCammon, John Sandford, Joe R. Lansdale, Andrew Vachss, Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Hunter, or James Rollins novel on the horizon.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to say how incredibly important my readers have been to me. When I’m feeling down, or struggling to understand my place in this challenging industry, I often get a positive note on my Facebook page, or a positive review on Amazon that really lifts my spirits and lets me know I’m on the right path. I keep trying to make every book better than the last, and it’s the support and encouragement of my readers that makes it all worthwhile.

Thanks ever so much to Grant for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been a pleasure. To find out more about Grant and his writing have a look at his website HERE.

Marked for Life Review

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Emelie Schepp’s debut novel is a thrilling study in Nordic Noir, encapsulating the very best attributes from the genre. With a Mankell-esq eye for detail and a gruesome and depraved plot, this novel contains every genre troupe that has made Nordic crime fiction so successful across the world, including corrupt officials, dark and haunting settings and blunt, often unflattering characterisation.

In fact it is Schepp’s commitment to creating characters that are both completely repulsive and entirely relatable that really sets this novel apart. Her key protagonist, Public Prosecutor Jana Berzelius, is intriguing and surprising right from the start, and the motley crew of Police Officers and Forensic Experts she works with highlight the full spectrum of human emotion and sensibility. Encompassing a broad range of themes, including sexual violence, misogyny, the abuse of power and the desperation of the victims of the illegal trade in people, Marked for Life skilfully combines social criticism and crime fiction in a way that hasn’t been properly achieved since Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy.

The case appears, initially, to be relatively straightforward. Head of the Migration Board Hans Juhlén has been shot dead in his own home, his body discovered by a distraught wife whose hysterical story quickly unravels, revealing both motive and opportunity, as well as sheading light on the lies and deception which permeate through the façade of the Juhléns’ supposedly perfect domestic lives. As the stoic head of the investigation Gunnar Öhrn comes to believe that the case may be solved, despite the cryptic presence of a child’s handprint in a childless household, the case takes an unexpected turn, as the body of a young boy washes up with an indisputable link to Juhlén’s death.

From thereon in Schepp showcases her skill at plotting, with the novel containing many skilfully implemented twists. The dark themes of the novel are complemented perfects by the author’s blunt, measured descriptions, with every detail presented to the reader, from the brand of clothes the detectives wear to the exact time at which each major event occurs. This creates a taut, brisk narrative that conveys perfectly the novel’s brilliant and harrowing plot.

Overall this is a stunning display of literary skill, and is the perfect debut novel. There is clearly much more to come from this talented author, and she is definitely one to watch. The novel has been compared to the works of many talented and revered Scandinavian crime writers, including Jo Nesbø and Lars Kepler as it states proudly on the book’s cover, but I would argue that Marked for Life in fact takes many of the best traits from the best across the genre, creating a book close to perfect which is definitely not to be missed.