The Savage Shore Review: An Enchanting and Gripping Thriller

the savage shore

Having previously participated in David Hewson’s blog tour in which I interviewed him about his work, I felt it was only right that I also review his latest novel, The Savage Shore, and give you my honest thoughts on the book.

It’s one of the early publications of a new publishing imprint, Black Thorn Books, and is part of Hewson’s longstanding Nic Costa series about the search for the truth in the heart of Italy.

Throughout Hewson’s series, which spans nearly ten books and is back after a break of a decade, Costa and his team have explored the history, culture and politics of Italy in search of the criminals behind a string of diabolical crimes.

In this latest incarnation, The Savage Shore, Costa has to infiltrate a ruthless and deadly mafia organisation with the help of a turncoat witness who may very well have his own agenda. In an unfamiliar location with a fake identity, Costa is surrounded by enemies and in grave danger.

The novel has that perfect blend of pace; fast, but with enough time to describe the scenery and evoke a sense of setting for the reader. Hewson’s work has the advantage of being set in the beautiful and evocative Italy, rather than somewhere grim and dank, like Scunthorpe, but the author’s exquisite sense of timing and sumptuous descriptions shine through none the less.

With everything from intrigue and lies through to murder and threats on the table, this ingenious thriller grips the reader from the beginning and draws them in to the elite yet frightening world of organised crime in which Costa now finds himself operating as he works with the head of a notoriously brutal branch of the mafia to unravel the organisation from the inside.

In short, this is a really concise, ingenuous thriller that leaves no doubt in my mind that Black Thorn Books has bloody good taste.

 

Game of Thrones: Why Books And TV Series Should Be Separate

 

game of thrones

Recently, HBO aired the long-awaited final series of Game of Thrones, the epic fantasy TV drama it has been producing for the past decade.

And it sucked. Balls.

I mean it. The ending to the series was complete dross. The final episodes were cinematically beautiful and brilliantly acted, but they were so badly written that they were almost cringe worthy.

However, author George R.R. Martin, on whose series of books the TV series was based, has announced that his final books will have a completely different ending to the show.

This has led to excitement from fans who felt let down by the show and are now excited at the prospect of books which will give them an alternative, hopefully better, ending.

This does bring up the issue of books being different to TV series and films, however, and the issue of how you separate the two. After all, they’re effectively the same universe, same characters, just different mediums and, in this case, different plots.

Ownership of writing and of characters has long been a topic of interest for me; as you may have read previously I have some series issues with J.K. Rowling and her seeming inability to leave the Harry Potter series alone. In this case, however, I come down on the opposite side of the argument. It is my belief that books and TV shows should be allowed to be separate entities with their own plots and narratives.

After all, as discussed in my article about the Inspector Morse book The Jewel That Was Ours, which has a completely different ending to the TV show episode it is based on, and which was written before it, I think that TV and books are, quite simply completely different mediums. Readers can absorb a different amount of information and are able to cope with confusing twists more easily that those watching a show or film, who may simply get bored.

Those who are true fans of a show, and not simply watching it for the hype, will be more keen to focus on the written word than whatever is put in front of them on a screen, as proved by comic book fans who have often had to witness lame adaptations of their favourites but remain committed to the comic series. Clearly, as the TV and film market is more susceptible to poor writing, issues such whitewashing and poor production, fans have come to see the benefits of reading their favourites, and this can only be a good thing.

Therefore, in my mind, if the book market remains the one safe place where fans know that their favourite characters and stories will be treated with the respect they deserve then this will encourage more reading, and this, in my opinion, is never a bad thing.

 

 

A Straightforward Guide to Being A Detective Review: A Really Great Idea Let Down By Poor Writing

striaghtforward guide

There’s definitely space on the market for a truly comprehensive guide to creating factually correct and historically accurate crime fiction.

As such, when I found out that Historian Stephen Wade and former Policeman Stuart Gibbon, whom I’ve already had the pleasure of interviewing, were collaborating to create such a guide I was excited.

The idea they have is perfect: create a guide that combines Gibbon’s policing expertise with Wade’s historical knowledge to create a comprehensive resource for fans of crime fiction or writers of the genre.

Whilst the idea is great, the execution lets the book down. For one thing, there’s no means to tell which expert is speaking at what point. Whilst it is easy enough to guess at some points, there’s no definitive indicator, and this isn’t great for those using this as a proper reference book.

Structurally the book is haphazardly, with each section laid out alphabetically with sub categories that are confusing and long-winded. With sub headings within sub headings it’s easy to get lost and hard to easily find the information you’re looking for.

There are also random pieces of, frankly, useless information in the book, such as a poem about early mornings. Whilst this may be interesting, it is not something a reader would ever be able to use in their research, and as a result is simply padding that makes this book feel like an essay that’s being bulked up as its a bit shy on the word count.

However, the biggest issue that I have with A Straightforward Guide to Being A Detective is the poor writing. The grammar and punctuation are not up to standard, and as such this would not be useable as a reference. Whilst it could make for a great guide for those seeking anecdotal advice, its complete lack of proofreading makes this useless if used as a source, and as such could not be used by anyone in an academic or corporate sense.

So, in short this is a really cool idea, and if the authors were to properly execute it then it could be something great. As it is, you can find some really great information in this book, but if you want something quick and easy to find then just Google it. If the authors were to consider a second edition, this one properly proof read and structured to a better standard, then it could potentially be a great academic and authorial resource for those exploring crime fiction as a genre.

Jason Beech Interview: “I fell into writing at a much later age”

jason beech

Today I have the pleasure of showcasing my interview with author Jason Beech, who uses his passion for great crime fiction and thrillers came some truly awesome examples of the genre that he created himself. He talks me through his work and his inspiration.

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

I read a lot of Ellroy, Rankin, Hiaasen, Banks and a lot more when I was young. Out of that pulped mass crawled my writing style. I loved the first book I wrote but I should never have published it – a mess of adverbs, typos, passive voice, and too many flashbacks that went on forever. I still tinker with it because it has a good core and a great cover, but it might never see the light of day again, or will take forever to chisel it into shape.

After that, I read a lot of Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, and started on independent authors like Paul D. Brazill, Ray Banks, Ryan Bracha, Keith Nixon and the likes – just to see where you could go with independent fiction. They all spurred me on and helped refine my own style.

I love crime fiction because it digs deep into society’s ills, the stakes are high, and it’s not always black and white. The great stuff, such as Ellroy’s American Tabloid is so grey it thrills as well as kills a bit of you inside. Not necessarily a good thing, but definitely interesting.

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

I’m from Sheffield, England, but now live in New Jersey. I did a bunch of crummy jobs before I got my act together and went to university. After I got a degree in history I put it to good use by coaching football in America (round ball variety). I now run nine teams and take them round the state and country to compete.

English and PE were always my favourite subjects at school and I remember telling my English teacher at secondary school, Ms Clarke, that I’d write a book. I don’t think she believed me because I was such a lazy student, but she encouraged the thought. Loved that woman.

I fell into writing at a much later age. Went to university later in life, thought my writing might hinder any success I’d have in getting there, so, inspired by American Tabloid I tried my hand at writing a novel. It was rubbish, but I finished the beast and tried again. Improved my writing, organising, and critical thinking. Made a much better effort on the second book, but sat on it for years. Eventually published it, got better, cringed at the effort, and forced myself to improve, which I think I have. But there’s so much good stuff out there that you’re always learning and it all pushes you on to greater things.

Please tell me about your books and what you think draws readers to them.

Moorlands and City of Forts are both noir-ish crime tales, and though one is set in England and the other in America, they’re both based around family. The website CrimeReads might call them Family Noir. The protagonists in both have a similar love/hate relationship with their families and put a lot of stock in friends, but events in both novels rip the seams of their familial and friendship bonds.

The main terror in Breaking Bad for me was Skylar and Junior finding out what Walt did to get all that money. That breakdown between them, Skylar’s walk into the pool, Walt’s warped idea that he did it all for the family – the stakes don’t get higher than that. Anybody who enjoys that kind of thing will, I hope, enjoy my books, along with the violence and writing style.

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

It might be something from my past, added to something I’d read for extra drama, combined with a lot of what ifs? My home city, Sheffield, pops up a lot, even if I’ve set a story in America. City of Forts is set in a nameless town in industrial America, but the images often come from the sea of bricks from demolished factories I remember as a kid. It’s amazing how often they smash into my head when I batter the keyboard. I outline the chapter if I get writer’s block. Solves everything.

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

I’d collaborate with Iain Banks, the great Scottish writer. Again, he has a family thing going on in a lot of his books, especially the warped Wasp Factory, which showed me how demented you could go in a story. I love how you can swim in the meandering The Crow Road, a book more about characters than plot – which often annoys me, but not Banks.

For a living author – I’d go with Kate Laity. She has this strange real-not-real thing going on in her stories, which get under your skin and sit in the back of your mind for ages afterwards. You should read her Unquiet Dreams collection. The one about a murdered girl who’s now a ghost will haunt your days, I’m telling you. However, how the hell do writers work on a joint project? That sounds unworkable to me.

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

Yes. I have a new short story collection coming out, Bullets, Teeth, & Fists 3. Some you might have read online, others will be just for the collection. Then I have a new novel out in November, Never Go Back, all noir.

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

I need to get my hands all over Paul D. Brazill’s Last Year’s Man, Aidan Thorn’s Rival Sons, Kate Laity’s Love is a Grift, Tom Pitts’ 101 (and American Static), Tom Leins’ Boneyard Dogs and Matt Phillips’ Countdown as well as others. There’s too much, I worry I’ll never get through it all – just like my Netflix queue.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just a big thanks to all those writers who see the good stuff outside their own work. I’d never have read Kate Laity if it wasn’t for Paul D Brazill. I wouldn’t have read Paul D. Brazill if it hadn’t been for somebody else (sorry, can’t remember who) hadn’t eulogised him.

A big thanks, too, for Ryan Bracha, who gave me (indirectly) a kick up the backside whenever I thought I was wasting my time (this was on an FB group a ton of writers belong to.)

David Nemeth is great at highlighting great independent fiction (and brutally honest at the work he doesn’t like, which makes him a crucial). All the readers who dive into my work: thanks all.

Thanks to Jason for answering my questions! It’s great to hear from a Paul D Brazill fan! 

 

How Reading Can Really Help In Times Of Stress

mental heatlh week

Just to quickly preface this article to say that I’m not, in any way, a doctor or therapist. I know about mental health only what I have experienced, and read in the course of trying to manage my own issues. Please don’t give up on medication or specific treatment plans based on any articles you read this Mental Health Awareness Week, not even one from someone as awesome as me!

However, if you’re looking for a means to de-stress, or an activity that will help you in times of bad mental health, then reading could be your answer, and this is a topic on which I excel. I am an avid reader, and I’ve found over the years that reading is a great activity for when my mental health is bad, I’m stressed, feeling strong anxiety or just really struggling.

It’s a great excuse to be alone, for one thing. It’s also a great reason to curl up and snuggle down under blankets and warm clothes. Reading is an activity that is all about being comfortable, a factor which really helps when you’re struggling mentally.

Another great thing about reading is that it’s a repetitive activity that doesn’t involve any outside factors that could increase stress or anxiety. Re-reading old favourites can be a great way to ensure you know that there are no trigger factors in a text, and make you feel really comfortable and calm in times of unease.

mental hmental healthmental health 2

My own anecdotal evidence is backed by new research showing that creative activities are considered good for mental health. The study references reading as one such activity, and whilst it isn’t technically a creative activity in the sense that you’re not actually creating anything, you are using your imagination. As such, reading can be a morale boost at times and offer a solace that perhaps other activities cannot.

So in all, reading is a great hobby for anyone out there who doesn’t currently do it regularly but is looking for an activity that may offer a positive impact on their mental health. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed to improve your mental wellbeing, but it’s not likely to harm it either, and with so many people turning to books to help them, it might work for you too.

Cosy Crime Fiction: It’s Still Literature

hands of woman reading book by fireplace

Crime fiction has often been thought of as less literary than other genres of writing. As someone who has been researching and writing about crime fiction for many years, I know this as well as anyone else.

Personally, I’ve found it hard to get people to think that crime fiction is more than just a silly, fun genre. My friend once said something similar about fantasy fiction, when he went into a bookshop and asked about the fantasy section and the bookseller said it was just for kids.

Crime fiction is pretty similar; many people think it’s the book equivalent of Midsomer Murders with its formulaic plots and reputation for being something you can watch easily without having to do much thinking or paying masses of attention.

However, in my mind most crime fiction is much more than that. There are always bad examples in any genre, but some of the world’s greatest crime fiction is truly amazing.

From Agatha Christie through to Raymond Chandler, Ruth Rendell to Peter James, there are some incredibly talented writers across the genre and their work is more than just something to check through; it’s true literature. It goes over the full plethora of human emotion, morality and social issues. They often showcase the challenges of the period in question and make for a great study of the ways in which people behave and interact with one another.

Cosy crime fiction is one of the sub-genres of crime fiction that gets the most flack. Often dismissed as the Mills and Boon of the crime fiction space, the style doesn’t have the gravitas of police procedurals nor the selling power of gritty, gore filled thrillers.

What it does have is the insight into human emotion and behaviour that many genres lack. Cosy crime fiction, from Agatha Raisin to the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series, is designed specifically to lull readers into thinking that they are about to read something easy and uncomplicated. What these novels create instead is a complicated allegory of human emotion and life in general.

One of the best examples of this is Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher series, which expertly combines convoluted plots and sweet romances with darker discussions on such topics as rape, the 1920’s justice system and racism. Greenwood’s novels show how twee, cosy crime fiction can hit home as succinctly as any grittier examples of the genre can.

So next time you think of crime fiction, don’t dismiss it completely offhand. No matter the sub-genre or style, there is something great to be found among the tales of grizzly murder and mayhem.

David Hewson Interview: “I wanted this to be a story driven by character, atmosphere and the extraordinary culture of Calabria”

the savage shore

To celebrate the launch of Black Thorn Books, a new publishing imprint dedicated specifically to crime fiction, I interviewed one of their authors, David Hewson, whose book The Savage Shore, part of his Nic Costa series, is being published by Black Thorn. David talks me through his latest novel and how he came to create such an engaging series through his love of reading.

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

To be honest I never set out to write crime fiction. I just wanted to write original, mainstream fiction that told big stories with bold narratives. It was only a few books in that I was told I was now a crime writer – not that I mind. And of course many books are now classified as crime which may not have been years ago. And maybe even plays too – is Macbeth a crime story? Possibly. Labels don’t really trouble me. It’s the story that counts.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I left school at 17 to work as a reporter on a little (now vanished) local newspaper in Yorkshire. A few years later I’d graduated to The Times, then the Independent and Sunday Times. But I always wanted to write fiction so gradually I eased back on the journalism and started trying to write fiction. It took a while but in 1996 I came out with my first book, now republished as Death in Seville and after a while I was able to give up journalism altogether.

Please tell me about The Savage Shore. What do you think sets it apart from your other work?

The Savage Shore is the tenth instalment in a series of books based around a young detective, Nic Costa, who works in the historic centre of Rome. There hasn’t been a Costa book for nine years but readers have been nagging me for once constantly. So I decided to bring the old team back but this time in a new place and with a new challenge.

Usually they’re on home ground in Rome, and in charge of events. But here they’re in the foreign ground of Calabria in the south and having to pretend to be something they’re not. They’re trying to engineer the escape of a crime gang lord who wants to turn state witness. But no one knows who the man really is or how they can get him out safely. Nic has to pretend to join the gang to make contact with him, while the rest of the crew have to sit around on the coast struggling to make escape plans while staying undercover.

I wanted this to be a story driven by character, atmosphere and the extraordinary culture of Calabria. There are no car chases and very little in the way of violence. It’s about how difficult it is for people to pretend to be something they’re not – and the price that can make them pay.

Having written books set around the world, what is your favourite place to set a novel and why?

It’s always the one I’m working on at the moment. It has to be that way otherwise I’d get distracted. But somewhere I come back to time and time again, both for stories and for peace for editing, is Venice. It’s such a magical place and with every book I finish there with a read through and an edit in an apartment I rent. It’s almost a superstition by now.

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’m not sure I’d call it anything as fancy as inspiration. A lot of writing isn’t about intellectual stimulation. It’s about practicality, craft, sweat, labour. The kind of things a painter thinks about when he or she sets out on a canvas. What kind of colours will I use? What brush? What sort of paint? What’s the perspective? The time of day?

When I set out to create a story I try to find a location, some characters and an inciting incident – in this case the gang lord who wants to defect. Then I place all these players on the board and see how they want to approach events. A writer should be in control only up to a certain point. You have to let your cast be true to themselves in order to find the solution.

Following on from that, what do you read yourself and how does this influence your work?

I try to read widely. I don’t think it’s healthy for a writer to read only in the field in which they work. In fact I think that’s unhealthy on occasion – you subconsciously pick up styles or ideas, and worse you miss out on a lot of good writing in other fields. So I read a lot of fiction – mainly but not only history. The past is such a good mirror of what’s happening today, to a startling degree at times. I’m a sucker for anything about ancient Rome and Greece and follow Mary Beard, Robert Harris and Tom Holland avidly. I also like obscure foreign works which take a bit of tracking down. Most recently a fascinating novel set in Ferrara just before World War Two, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani.

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

I’m not a natural collaborator, I must say, but I would love to have worked out how Robert Graves went about writing I, Claudius and how long it took him. There were so many sources for that book and they were all in Latin.

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

My next book with Black Thorn will be a real departure – the first novel set somewhere I’ve never been. I’m usually big on local research – I signed up for language school to write the Costa books and spent ages in Italy. But you can work straight out of your imagination too. So next year my you’ll meet Devil’s Fjord, a mystery set in the fictional wilds of the Faroe Islands about a couple who retire there thinking it’s paradise, only to discover they got things very wrong.

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

No names or titles – as always with books I wait to be surprised.

Thanks to David for taking the time to answer my question. You can find out more about The Savage Shore and Black Thorn HERE.