Crime Fiction I’m Looking Forward to in 2017

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First of all I would just like to wish everyone a Happy New Year ahead of tomorrow, and I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas.

The New Year heralds a host of exciting new novels that will make it a great year to either get into Crime Fiction or grow your obsession.

In the summer the next Rina Walker novel by Hugh Fraser is due to be released and I am excited to see what the next instalment in this thrilling series will bring.

Paula Hawkins, author of the excellent The Girl on the Train, has a new novel Into the Water due out around May and it promises to offer the same psychological intrigue and skilled characterization as her previous bestseller.

Another favorite, Jo Nesbo, has a new book out at around the same time as he brings back his iconic detective Harry Hole to investigate another serial killer on a vicious killing spree.

Benedict J. Jones, a wonderful author I had the pleasure of interviewing earlier in 2016, also has a book out in the New Year featuring the excellent Charlie Bars as the follow up to Pennies for Charon sees this brilliant detective caught up in dark doings in the bleak Northumbrian countryside whilst on holiday. Horse mutilation, deadly obsession, dog fighting, a family of maniacs, and a family in danger are all in store and I for one am looking forward to it.

Overall 2017 looks set to be an awesome year for Crime Fiction and I cannot wait to get stuck in. Let’s just hope that there are fewer celebrity deaths and more great new novels released!

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The Top Five Christmas Crime Fiction Stories to Get You in the Christmas Spirit

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Christmas is always an exciting time of year, and there’s nothing like a good book to get you in the mood. Crime fiction often centres on the festivities, with murderers, thieves and general scoundrels all crawling out of the woodwork at the time when others are simply making merry and having fun. Writers relish the opportunity to focus their plot around a time when there are so many opportunities for plot devices such as love, family troubles and buried secrets, as relationships are thrust to the fore and people who usually only see each other a handful of times a year join together to celebrate.

So, as everyone winds down on Christmas Eve, here is my pick of the five festive crime fiction books you should read with all this free time you now have until the New Year. Combining superb writing with a festive setting, they are all great options for either your own personal gratification or a late Christmas present if you find yourself running out of both time and ideas on what to buy the bibliophile in your life.

  1. Twelve Days of Winter: Over the years I’ve come to enjoy Stuart MacBride’s gritty Scottish thrillers, and this collection of short stories, each themed around one of the twelve days of Christmas, is as dark and twisted as the rest of his work, making for an innovative and unforgettable read.
  1. Murder For Christmas: Francis Duncan’s classic festive tale sees former tobacconist Mordecai Tremaine invited to spend Christmas in the sleepy village of Sherbroome at the country retreat of Benedict Grame. Starting off well enough the celebrations come to an abrupt end on Christmas morning when a corpse is discovered under the tree. With all the traditional festive tropes this is a great read for anyone looking for a unique way to get themselves in the festive spirit.
  1. Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye: M.C Beaton’s novels featuring the cranky but loveable Agatha Raisin are twee and unchallenging, making them ideal for those whose brains have been fried from a tough few weeks preparing for the holidays. In this festive outing the spinster sleuth solves a case of poisoning which is more complicated than it first appears.

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  1. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow: This stunning example of true Scandinavian Crime Fiction is set during the festive season, although the plot is anything but cheerful as Miss Smilla investigates the death of a young boy who fell from the roof of her building. A Greenlander originally, Smilla knows snow better than anyone else, and it is this intuition which prompts a heart stopping race against time to catch a cold blooded and calculating killer. Peter Hoeg unforgettable novel is a great read for those who are looking for the antithesis of comfortable, old fashioned crime capers.
  1. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas: A personal favourite, Christie’s Christmas caper is sweet and humdrum whilst at the same time being dark and gripping, making it ideal for a flick through on the big day while the family squabbles over who’s cooking the turkey. Featuring murder, mayhem and malice this is a classic example of Christie at her best, as Poirot races to solve the murder of the rich but vile Simeon Lee before the killer strikes again.

 

 

Threat Review: Thrilling, Taut and Tense

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When I told some Christie fan friends that I was reviewing the latest novel by Hugh Fraser (famed for his portray of Captain Hastings in the televised adaptions of the Poirot novels, as well as his hilarious portrayal of the Duke of Wellington in Sharpe), they were excited. ‘I wonder if it’ll be anything like Christie’s novels?’

Errr, no. Definitely not. Fraser’s second novel featuring the devious, streetwise and downright ruthless hit woman Rina Walker is dark, twisted and as hard hitting as its protagonist. Set in 60s London, there is a lot of swinging and plenty of gangsters to contend with for the glamorous Rina, as she battles against pimps, killers and generally shady characters in the hunt for the truth behind the disappearance of a number of prostitutes, all of whom work for the same man.

There’s a whiff of old school, Golden Age crime fiction early on when Rina and her girlfriend Lizzie make a new friend at a nightclub opening and promptly follow him to the country manor of a friend, although this quickly returns to the sordid and seedy as the pair encounter orgies, blackmail and general debauchery.

It is this scene and the reckless behaviour Rina displays, which are the only unbelievable aspects of the novel. Whilst Fraser has the dialogue down pat, flawless characterisation and a frankly brilliant way of writing about 60s London that will make you feel as if you are there, it just doesn’t sit well with me that a seasoned contract killer would leave her 14 year old sister alone in London to escape the dangerous men hounding her for one night out. Fraser’s skilled characterisation portrays Rina as fiercely loyal and dedicated to her sister, and as such her carelessness just doesn’t add up.

However, if you can overlook this potential plot flaw then there is a lot on offer here. Threat offers the reader a unique and realistic portrayal of the seedier side of London, and the first person narrative makes for an interesting dynamic, giving the novel the feel of a film script. With more twists and turns than a West Country road this is an exciting, edge of your seat thriller that keeps the reader guessing.

If anything, Threat should be read exclusively as a lesson in how to write lesbians in crime fiction. Rina and Lizzie’s relationship isn’t a plot device, nor is it a fetish or something heralded as weird; it’s just there. And that is something we definitely need more of.

As an exercise in swearing this book packs an equally mighty punch- the first person narrative makes the exquisite dialogue all the more vivid and impactful.

Overall I would definitely recommend you check this out. Leave your preconceptions at the door- Hugh Fraser’s writing is so far removed from my memories of him declaring ‘Good Lord’ at every conceivable moment that it is almost laughable. This is a really different, edgy thriller that makes for an intense read and an enjoyable, fast-paced read.

Dave Wilson Interview: “When I do something I do not do it by halves”

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Dave Wilson, author of gripping short story collection Villain and the upcoming Criminal, speaks about his work, his background and how this has inspired his writing.

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

I work away a lot as I am a merchant seaman and on my off time I wanted a hobby; I used to paint draw pictures with charcoal, some of my work actually won prizes down the Falkland’s. I know this as friends I gave the work to entered my work in art fairs, so my next challenge was that of writing. It really started a couple of years ago I tried my hand at poetry and I tried a book on North Shields, my home town, writing about the way it was incorporating pictures with each page, I looked at it and showed my friends and then the question was put to me: why don’t you write about the criminals? You know every single one of them: why not get the story out? I used to hang about with known hard cases from my area: my father was a criminal, a very successful one. His friends were all criminals and I had dealings with criminals. As a young man I have worked doors and venues as a bouncer when bouncers earned their keep. I have also been a taxi driver during my life, and my father owned pubs. I had dealings with criminals trying to enter his bars and restaurants and most importantly I come from the bottom end of North Shields. Where the bars and clubs that dominated my town once stood as a child, I was surrounded by the criminal element and as a man I had real dealings with them all so I guess writing about crime and dark fiction comes from that experience.

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

I never really had a writing background I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it for personal reasons. Being able to write gives me the satisfaction of saying I have achieved something in my life, something my grand children’s children could look at and say ‘I existed’. Like I explained writing about crime and the violence of crime comes from witnessing the mentality at first hand; knowing about organised criminal behaviour comes from my father’s generation and his involvement with the firms of Tyneside. I have witnessed criminal activity from a very early age. I was expected to become a criminal by my father’s friends; it was asked of me in my father’s pub. A well none arch villain asked my brother and I if we where interested in a heist. Believe it or not though my father didn’t want us to go down that path and he intervened in the conversation a week later my fathers other friend came to Jingler as a request from my father he asked us one question: are you wanting to be a good man or a bad man? The choice is yours. I respected Mr Devlin for saying that as he was looking out for our interests, but the lure didn’t entirely prevent events from happening. I was getting notoriety in a different form as a fighter and I became very close friends with certain hard men that controlled doors where I worked some times in Whitley Bay, across the Tynemouth and the Newcastle night scene whilst I was on leave meeting a variety of criminals and drug dealers, basically all walks of life. So now I sit and write dark fiction I do not need to research this genre as I actually to some degree lived it and sharing my memories and thoughts. Knowing how the game is played adds an entirely different twist compared to crime writers out there. I analyse the criminal behaviour from experiencing it through out my life. A good doorman knows the straight players and can single out the shady characters the game trained the eye.

How is your novel Villain based on your real life experiences?

Villain was written with true stories incorporated into it: I have blended true accounts into a fictional story line in order to bury the factual into fiction. The true accounts are set around the North Shields area during the 1970s-80s and 1990s. Some of the story line I incorporated especially in the reminiscent stage where I talk about my childhood. Other stories which I have also placed true stories into fiction I have had to blend in a character; for instance I was with a guy that was shot at his doorway back in 1999. I went home and he was kneecapped I knew who had done it so I had to make up a story to the police that I didn’t know him. It was agreed on both sides now I incorporated this story in Villain and the way I felt about it in a fictional story line another instance my fathers pub I had change names. It actually happened, all of the fighting chapters, however I made up stories in Villain as well the extortion side of things the Aberdeen scenario but I did blend in truth as one scene talks about a stripper asking me for a dance; that actually happened. Villain has many true stories that I have had to place and explain in different context. The drug dealing taxi driver is fictional however the loan shark is real and the party in the west end is real. Like I stated I have some true stories and some fictional my goal was to introduce how it is to act in the world I have written.

Have you done any other work that you are particularly proud of?  

I am currently working on a book called Criminal, which is almost finished.

Any new projects on the horizon you’d like to share with me?

I am just about finished a novel called Criminal. Like Villain I have incorporated true stories but this time I have pointed out the true stories are of my father’s generation, which I remember very well. I have created a story line following the careers of a successful breaking crew (career criminals) that basically are that good at covering their tracks they operate right under the police radar, going about the business completely invisible to the authorities. The men portrayed have no criminal record; they hold good jobs on paper, working for their uncles. Their rules are simple: a three strike system within their crew- if you attract the police more than three times you’re gone. Old school criminal logic is involved throughout Criminal: I have written more about the planning of each job from commercial burglary to heists and murder. I have incorporated the grizzly act of dismemberment: no body no crime. I really have put a lot into criminal to keep the reader interested: in Criminal you follow their careers all the way to retirement, sitting on there assets in the sun. Eventually I think once Criminal has been finally tweaked it will become an exemplary piece of dark fiction. Criminal is currently 83, 000 words: it should be longer before it is finished

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

Stephen Sayers and Stu Armstrong: I know both the authors personally, Steve released a book called Tried and Tested to the Highest Level, I have read his book and I fondly know half the people in there. His next book, By Any Means Possible will shortly be released, and I want to read that one as well. The books I enjoy are true-life mafia Roy Demeo’s The Murder Machine, and For the Sins of my Father by Albert Demeo I can relate to Albert’s story as his father, like mine, were criminals involved within organised crime.

Anything you’d like to add?

I really have started enjoying my hobby. When I do something I do not do it by halves; as a child I was math dyslexic and in the 1970s children with a condition were deemed thick, so basically I was labelled. Shaking off that label took a long time the narrow minded world which would never allow a person to progress. I have had my fare share of this throughout my life and sheer determination and will power has been my biggest weapon in life. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts.

Many thanks to Dave for taking the time; it’s been really interesting. You can learn more about Dave’s work HERE.

Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond Stories: A Riveting Collection of Thrillers

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Don’t get me wrong; Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond series was sexist, racist and seriously anti-sematic, but despite these vile prejudices I would still recommend that everyone read these books.

This may sound like a bold statement, but please hear me out. There is definitely a lot that can be learned from these books, both from a literary and an academic standpoint. Sapper, or Herman Cyril McNeile (at the time serving British Army officers were not allowed to publish under their own names) was a solider first and foremost; as such his work is directly shaped by the conflict, and there is much to be learned about the First World War from the thrilling tales of Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond, the author’s demobilized solider protagonist.

In addition, these novels, which spawned many popular films, form the basis for several crime fiction genres. Although not directly linked to the pulp fiction movement in America that gave rise to the hardboiled detective, it can be argued that Drummond forms the blueprint for these tough, droll and suave characters. He is also one of the original private eyes, setting a trend for wealthy detectives with nothing but boredom to motivate them.

This might not sound like the ideal premise for a series as prolific as the Bulldog Drummond stories (there were 10 novels and several short stories written by McNeile himself, with the franchise then being taken over by numerous other novelists and later also becoming a highly successful film series), but it was the characterization that led to the longevity of Sapper’s detective. Drummond and his band of merry men (a group of soldiers with names that could have come straight from a P.G Wodehouse novel) stumble across their crimes and dive in headfirst, often causing chaos, but in doing so they created a narrative which is now highly copied throughout the crime fiction market. They were also highly memorable, and are now the template for many other famous characters, with Ian Fleming once famously stating that James Bond was based on Drummond.

However, it is villains that are McNeile’s true forte, and in the early novels the enigmatic and truly evil Peterson and his vile accomplice Irma, designed to compliment Drummond and his client turned wife Phyllis are the perfect criminal masterminds. The pair are both equally scheming and jealous and devoted exclusively to each other and money. Through his strong characterization of the criminals McNeile is able to create the perfect, uncomplicated thriller; the reader constantly knows where their key alliances are, and is therefore able to relax and enjoy the action. There is no whodunit involved in the Bulldog Drummond novels. The villain is always clearly marked to allow the action to remain the central narrative drive, and this is a great way to insert various social commentaries and insights (not all particularly subtly; as previously mentioned Sapper’s hatred for the Jewish is well documented in these stories).

Similar to the Bond novels, these books focus instead on the action and characters rather than the plot itself. Although the plots are forumalic and often somewhat repetitive, it is in his use of the secondary characters that Sapper shows originality. The thuggish but honest and moral Drummond is always assisted by a veritable army of former soldiers that break the sidekick mould due to their versatility as characters and the sheer number of them present in any one novel (there are anywhere between two or three to half a dozen, each with backstories, dialogue and narrative uses).

The same goes for the use of the police in these stories; often they are not merely a means of obtaining information, nor a sly dig at the establishment- rather they become Drummond’s guardians, in a manner of speaking, watching as he clumsily rampages until they find him with an actual suspect or some tangible evidence. By no means stupid, Drummond is portrayed as perfectly capable to handle himself, however the police are often used as his official minders, and the complicated relationship they share, alongside the intelligence Sapper gifts his constabulary characters, complicates the age old trope of the private detective as the hired thug and the copper as the shining bastion of morality (bent coppers, or those with secrets, are another key feature in Sapper’s tales).

Overall I would thoroughly recommend that you check out at least the first four (known as the Carl Peterson novels), which are a match for Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books for in terms of wit and act as a blueprint for hundreds of hard boiled writers throughout the 1920s and beyond.

Terry Tyler Interview: “My books have always dealt with the psychological aspect of relationships”

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This week I had the pleasure of speaking to fellow Book Blogger/ Author Terry Tyler about her work, her background and her approach to creating great psychological novels.

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

I’ve always varied between light and dark; lately it’s veered more towards the latter, though. I’ve written so much about family and love relationships, and found that I most enjoyed writing the characters who have deep and scary secrets, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up writing about a psychopath or two!

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

I have no formal training. I first wrote a novel in 1993 after wondering if I could, and sitting down to make a start (I actually remember sitting down at the kitchen table with a pad of paper and a biro, and thinking, ‘Right. How do I do this, then?).  My books have always dealt with the psychological aspect of relationships because it’s something that interests me greatly. I’m forever analysing people’s motives and motivations!

How does your fascination with personal relationships affect your characterisation?

I hope it makes them more rounded and realistic. I don’t consciously work out my characters, or write lists of traits to which their development must adhere; they just form in my head. As I write from many points of view, often in the first person, I just ‘become’ that person in my mind as I write them. I try the dialogue on for size, too. Out loud, I mean. I must look really silly.

Are there any other features that you believe are essential to writing good psychological fiction?

I think you need to have a basic understanding of people’s motivations, insecurities, prejudices, and the criminal or psychopathic mind, if necessary. Although a good course can always teach you something, a course in itself will not enable you to write convincing characters unless you already have that understanding. It also helps if you plan the plot alongside the characters, rather than try to shoehorn someone into a story. You know when you read reviews that say things like ‘I thought it was highly unlikely that Joe would have just abandoned Suzy’, or ‘How come a confident, assertive woman like Jane would allow her husband to demean her like that?”? That’s what I mean!

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

No, I just sit down at the laptop and start. Sometimes I don’t feel like it, so I read through what I’ve already written to get me back into the story, particularly if I’ve had an enforced break for a few days- I suppose that could be called a ritual, yes! As for inspiration: I don’t know, it just happens!

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

I detest collaborating, but if I had to, I reckon I might allow Bill Bryson to collaborate with me on a travel book (lucky you, Bill!), because there are so many places in the world that I’d love to see, and I think he’d be a great person to go with. He views events and people in the same way I do, often; I’m sure we’d have a great laugh.

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

I always start the next book before the current one is published (when it’s gone off for beta and proofreading!), and I fluctuate between being excited about and loathing whatever I’m writing. The current project is a post apocalyptic series, set in England 8 years in the future. It’s about cyber surveillance by the government and targeted depopulation, followed by a pandemic. It’s still very much a ‘me’ book, though, as the story centres around one family and their friends, is written from several first and third person points of view, and is character driven. And there are a couple of seriously nasty characters. The outbreak happens during the first book, and most of the story is about survival in the new world. My plan is to finish parts one and two before publishing the first. That way, if the first one is a total flop, I won’t be put off finishing it!

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As a fellow book reviewer tell me, what new books or writers are you looking forward to later in the year and beyond?

I am continually looking forward to more of Gemma Lawrence’s two series, about Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn. Also the next part of Kate Mary’s new post-zombie-apocalypse series, Twisted World. And travel writer Jo Carroll’s first novel. Travel writer Val Poore’s novel about a couple that settle in South Africa, based on her own experience. I always have a long to-read list, as do most of us!

Anything you’d like to add?

Just to say thank you very much for inviting me to your blog.

Massive thanks to Terry for taking this time- it’s been really enlightening. Check out Terry’s work HERE.