Reader Dad – Book Reviews

Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews

Exclusive Excerpt from Sven Hassel’s WHEELS OF TERROR

image005 WHEELS OF TERROR: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Sven Hassel (

Jordy Diago (

Weidenfeld & Nicholson (


This week sees the UK publication of the graphic novel adaptation of Sven Hassel’s 1959 novel, Wheels of Terror. Adapted by Hassel’s family, and brought to life by the stunning artwork of Spanish artist Jordy Diago, the book is published to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

To celebrate the book’s release, the publisher have very kindly made the complete Chapter 9 available to Reader Dad for everyone to enjoy. Click on the image below to download the PDF file and enjoy this beautiful, if gory, glimpse at life on the Front.


October 2, 2015 Posted by | War, Guest Post, Graphic Novel, Extract | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



Tania Chandler (

Scribe Publications (


Today, the Please Don’t Leave Me Here blog tour stops at Reader Dad. My review of this excellent debut novel is below. Be sure to check out the other stops of the blog (details below).

Brigitte is living a normal family life in the Melbourne suburbs: married to a policeman, mother to young twins. One morning the news informs her that police are re-opening the fourteen-year-old Eric Tucker case; Tucker was beaten to death in his apartment on the same day that Brigitte was knocked down in a hit-and-run which left her in constant pain, and with no memory of the time immediately before the accident. But the case re-opens old wounds – Brigitte was a prime suspect at the time, despite the fact that she can’t remember ever meeting Tucker, and is now married to the policeman who led the investigation. When he brings home the detective tasked with re-opening the case, things start to fall apart for Brigitte, a process that is accelerated when her husband is killed in the line of duty. Kurt Cobain, who killed himself mere weeks before Tucker’s death and her own catastrophic meeting with a blue Camry, starts to appear in Brigitte’s dreams, and the memory of what happened in 1994 starts to slowly return.

Tania Chandler’s debut novel gives us a glimpse into Brigitte’s life as it slowly begins to crumble around her. From the outset, we feel that we’re playing catch-up, trying to get up to speed with the history that has led Brigitte to this point, not helped by the huge gaps in her memory. Brigitte – and the reader – begins to get flashbacks of that time, a brief snippet of conversation, an image that she cannot shake, all intertwined with the weird dreams that incorporate Nirvana’s surreal “Heart-Shaped Box” music video and the band’s lead singer, who seems to haunt her even when she is awake. The opening segment of the novel covers an unknown – but quite long – period during 2008. Chandler’s writing is masterful: she dips in and out of Brigitte’s life during this period showing us brief, but extremely detailed, moments of her spiralling life. At the same time, there is something that makes us feel like everything is moving in slow motion towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion.

PDLMH blog tour imageAs the novel returns to 1994 – the long central portion of the book – we find ourselves once again in the company of Brigitte, but a much different person than the one who inhabits 2008: a drug-addicted stripper locked in an abusive relationship. When she finds love, things seem to take an upward turn, and we begin to see how the flashbacks we’ve already encountered fit into the bigger picture, happy times and sad, and some explanation for Cobain’s presence in her future. Here, we encounter tenderness and violence, love, sex and drugs, a hard-hitting concoction that pulls no punches, and puts us in Brigitte’s shoes as she experiences the whole spectrum of emotions.

Music plays an important role in the development of the story, and we hear recurring themes as we progress, not just the music of Kurt Cobain, but that of bandmate Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters and the beautiful, haunting melody that is Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s “Where the Wild Roses Grow”, which forms a backdrop to some of the most important moments of Brigitte’s life. It’s a wonderful, if somewhat off-the-wall soundtrack to an excellent novel.

At the heart of the story are the twin mysteries of Eric Tucker’s murder and Brigitte’s hit-and-run accident. Chandler builds towards the solution of the one, while the perpetrator of the other is unimportant to us as readers except in its resulting effect on Brigitte’s memory. When the killer is revealed, the reader begins to re-examine what has gone before, picking up on throw-away lines, liberally dotted clues that we should have picked up the first time around had we not been so engrossed in what is happening to Brigitte.

Please Don’t Leave Me Here is an accomplished first novel that reads like the work of a much more experienced author. Tania Chandler knows how to manipulate her audience, and her writing style is unique and engaging. In Brigitte she presents us a fragile and unlikely heroine without ever making her the stereotypical weak and needy damsel in distress. The characters around her are, for the most part, a thoroughly unpleasant bunch, both in her new life in 2008 and in the old one of 1994, and this serves to keep us firmly in Brigitte’s corner. The juxtaposition of Brigitte’s unravelling life and the slowly unfolding mystery combined with suggestive musical accompaniment make this a book that is sure to stick in the reader’s mind, a story that will come to us for a long time whenever we hear Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” or Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads. Beautifully written and wonderfully atmospheric, this is a book not to be missed, and an author at the beginning of what is sure to be an incredible career.

September 19, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GUEST POST: Bringing Solomon Creed to Life by SIMON TOYNE

Simon Toyne by Toby Madden USE Name: SIMON TOYNE

Author of: SANCTUS (2011)
                 THE KEY (2012)
                 THE TOWER (2013)
                 SOLOMON CREED (2015)

On the web:

On Twitter: @simontoyne

Today sees the release of Simon Toyne’s new novel, Solomon Creed. To celebrate I’m very excited to welcome Simon back to Reader Dad (for a record third time!) as part of the book’s blog tour, to talk about his process for creating the fascinating characters that inhabit his stories. So, without further ado…

Who is Solomon Creed?

Bringing Solomon to life


Some writers start with their characters, or their main character at least, and let their story grow from there. I’m the other way round. I always know, roughly, what a book is going to be about then set about populating it. This is when I indulge in one of my favourite writerly pastimes of casturbation.

Casturbation, if you are unfamiliar with the term, means the imaginary casting of the movie of your book. I start by setting up a character document and write a list of the people I need to tell the story. This can start off with things as vague as ‘Corrupt Cop dude’, it doesn’t really matter at this stage, the detail will come gradually. Once I have my list of essential characters I write a one or two line description beneath each name and start trawling the internet for photographs, looking for faces. Inevitably a lot of my characters end up looking like actors in certain movies, but not always. Sometimes a photograph from a news story will grab my attention and I’ll cut it out and paste it into the document.

This is quite a fluid process, the character descriptions growing as I write the book and the pictures often changing too. I see the document very much as a tool rather than a finished thing, a starting point and on-going reference. As an example of the fluidity of this process, while I was writing Solomon, Matt (the reader dad himself) asked me to write something on ‘Carrie at 40’ and that experience ended up informing my main female character. You can spot the reference in the book.

With my main character, Solomon Creed, I knew I wanted him to be ‘other’, not just a stranger but – ‘strange’ so he had to look extraordinary. I also knew I wanted him walking out of the desert at the start. I’m very visual and have to see things before I can write them so I use all kinds of visual queues and references. For this opening scene I re-watched the opening scene of ‘Paris,Texas’ where Harry Dean Stanton is shuffling across a vast landscape and was struck by how odd it was that he was wearing a suit – so I put Solomon in a suit and took away his shoes to add an extra element of oddness. I also re-watched ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ and gave Solomon some of the elegant awkwardness and charisma of both Peter O’Toole and David Bowie. In fact pictures of both stood in for Solomon at various stages of the writing process, though that’s not what he ended up looking like.

Another major element of Solomon’s character is that he is a man with no personal memories, a man wiped clean of his past. I remember staring at a photo of Bowie in his Thin White Duke days – “well hung and snow white tan” (actually that’s Ziggy, but it’s a fluid process remember?) – and I realised Solomon should be the same, only even whiter – a blank sheet of paper of a man. And that’s how he became an albino, someone so white he’s almost uncanny. At one point in the book he is described by another character as looking like a beautiful marble statue that has come to life. This whiteness also makes him particularly vulnerable to the harsh Arizona sun, which adds to his character and his vulnerability within the story.

I always treat location as another character in the story but my approach to that is slightly different and I’ll talk about that and research in general in the next writing blog post, here, though the Solomon Creed blog tour continues tomorrow with a Q and A here.


September 10, 2015 Posted by | Guest Post, Thriller | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SOLOMON CREED by Simon Toyne


Simon Toyne (

HarperCollins (


A small aircraft crashes in the desert outside the small Arizona town of Redemption. One man walks away from the wreckage, though he is unsure of whether he was actually on the plane. He is, in fact, unsure of anything, his mind wiped clean, his knowledge of who he is and where he comes from gone. He soon discovers that his name is Solomon Creed, and that he is in Redemption to save a man named James Coronado, a man who the town is burying at the time Creed arrives. Redemption, like any small town, hides many secrets, and the town elders have good reason to worry, not because Solomon Creed has arrived in their midst, but because there was a precious package on board the crashed plane, a precious package that could spell the end of the town, unless they can use Creed’s sudden appearance to their own advantage.

The eponymous hero of Simon Toyne’s new novel is a complete enigma – to himself, to those he meets, to the reader. Striking – albino-like – in appearance, he stands out, and his odd mannerisms serve only to emphasise this strange man in our minds. His immediate clash with Redemption’s chief of police and the unusual pieces of information that surface in his mind as and when he needs them – pieces of information that have nothing to do with who he is, or why he is in Redemption – give us some ideas of who he might be or, at the very least, what his past may have entailed. Toyne never – at least until the novel’s closing pages – goes farther than suggestion, and so we are left with this enigma and our own guesses as to how he ended up in this small Arizona town, and what he hopes to accomplish here.

The town itself plays an important role in the story, its history and people integral parts of the bigger picture. Like his fictional city of Ruin, this small town is perfectly-formed, and presented to the reader in such a way that we feel we know it, we know the people who inhabit it, and the dirty little secrets that they think they hide from one another. It feels like somewhere we’ve been before, yet another testament to Toyne’s ability to infuse his novels with a definite sense of place, making the location come to life in the same way that his characters do.

Solomon Creed is Simon Toyne’s first post-Sanctus venture, and is a much different beast from that lauded trilogy. Palpably tense from the opening pages, the author has crafted an intelligent, well-paced thriller that brings together the best elements of small-town America, lost treasure and Mexican drug cartels in a single, coherent, gripping whole. Interestingly, the novel does share one of the earlier trilogy’s key features: at the centre of this plot, and of the lives of the people who live in the town of Redemption, is religion (or, perhaps, Religion?), though here it is of a much more mundane variety than the secretive monks of Ruin’s Citadel. Toyne uses the town’s history, and the story of its founder, to examine the question of faith and to consider what it is that forms the foundation of these peoples’ faith.

For the most part, the story is centred around the location of a long-lost treasure hidden by Redemption’s founding father. As Solomon Creed learns more about the town, it becomes apparent that the accident that killed James Coronado may have been something much more sinister. Along with Coronado’s wife, Holly, he tries to discover why anyone would have wanted him dead, and discovers that the town’s elders may be hiding much bigger secrets than is at first apparent.

So, what is it that sets Solomon Creed apart from the multitude of action heroes? It’s the sense of mystery and the author’s wonderful ability to drip-feed the information he wants us to know to keep the story and the character fresh and engaging. It’s the way in which knowledge and useful skills come to Creed out of the blue, as if he’s connected to the Internet, networked in the literal sense; Creed is no Superman, but we get the feeling that he might be able to do anything the Man of Steel could do and more. Think of The Matrix’s Neo learning Kung Fu, and you’re close to understanding the scope of Creed’s untapped mental resources. And therein lies his defining trait: Creed is not an action hero, not in the traditional sense; he is a man with a purpose, a man more likely to think his way out of a sticky situation than shoot his way out, but a dangerous man to be on the wrong side of nonetheless.

Simon Toyne’s fourth novel, the first to be set outside the fictional world to which he introduced us in his Sanctus trilogy, cements his place as one of the finest genre writers working today. Clever and engaging, Toyne weaves a number of strands together to produce an exciting, page-turning read. As always, his characterisations are pitch perfect and his sense of place second-to-none – his small-town Arizona seems as real as the Turkish city of Ruin. A perfectly-formed thriller in the author’s own unique style, Solomon Creed is not to be missed by returning fans and Toyne virgins alike.

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Fanboy Gushings, Thriller | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



Aliette de Bodard (

Gollancz (


Whilst searching the ruins of Paris’ Grands Magasins for vital resources, Philippe and his companion come across a newborn Fallen, an Angel ejected from The City and exiled to the mortal plain. Deciding to harvest the Fallen for artefacts that contain powerful magic, Philippe is caught when members of one of Paris’ great Houses appears to claim the newborn. Bound to the House by Selene, the Head of Silverspires, and to Isabelle, the newborn, after tasting her blood, Philippe has no option but to find a means of escape. Unrest is brewing in Paris, and another war between the great Houses seems inevitable; it’s a situation that could work in Philippe’s favour, but before he can take advantage, he unwittingly unleashes an unspeakable evil on the House, a shadowy creature that roams the Île de la Cité, picking off members of the Household. Along with Isabelle and Madeleine, the House’s alchemist, Philippe discovers a decades-old secret that could destroy Silverspires.

Aliette de Bodard’s debut novel is set in a post-magical-apocalyptic Paris in or around the 1960s. Destroyed during a magical war that coincided, more or less, with the real world’s Great War, Paris is now a city divided into two main classes: the Houses and the Gangs. The Houses for the most part are run by – or heavily populated by – Fallen Angels, exiled from The City for infractions that they can no longer remember. Paris itself has suffered greatly as part of the war: buildings lie in ruins, provisions are scarce, especially for those not affiliated with one of the Houses, and the Seine is a magic-infested cesspool that humans and angels avoid at all costs.

When we enter this strange new world, we meet Philippe, a Vietnamese national who has ended up in Paris against his will: while he looks to be in his early twenties, Philippe was once Immortal, a member of the Jade Emperor’s court. Now hundreds of years old, Philippe has been in Paris for over sixty years, having been conscripted and shipped to France to fight in the war. Wielding a different flavour of magic to the city’s Fallen, Philippe is an enigma to the elders of House Silverspires of whom he becomes a captive before the story has barely started. His bond with Isabelle, a bond formed when he briefly tasted her blood, adds a further dimension to his captivity: Philippe has a constant watcher, and while Isabelle is new to the House, it is clear where her loyalties will ultimately lie.

Much of the action takes place in House Silverspires, which resides in the ruins of Notre Dame Cathedral and the other buildings on the Île de la Cité. De Bodard uses multiple viewpoints to give us a rounded understanding of how the Houses work, and of the relationships between the different Houses, without the need for much exposition. These viewpoints show us the House from a number of different perspectives: through the eyes of Philippe, who detests the House system for what it did to him during the war; those of Isabelle, the newest member of the Household; Madeleine, a mortal who spends her days working with magic, and dealing with an addiction that could see her expelled from the House should anyone discover it; and through the eyes of Selene, the Head of the House, and the direct successor of the House’s founder, First of the Fallen, Lucifer Morningstar.

Morningstar himself appears only in fleeting glimpses, in visions that Philippe has because of his connection to the evil that now stalks the House’s residents. There is little need for introduction, and de Bodard uses this to her advantage, tagging on the features that she needs for the Morningstar of her own world: the metal wings that were more than an affectation, the aloof manner. In many ways, each of the central characters is living in Morningstar’s shadow, some more literally than others, and despite being missing from both the story and the world – he hasn’t been seen for twenty years at the point Philippe enters House Silverspires – he remains a palpable presence throughout the novel.

The world de Bodard has created is beautifully-wrought, a post-apocalyptic nightmare unlike any you have seen before. There is a dangerous moment early in the narrative where it looks like the story may well stray into the realms of Twilight, but thankfully that proves not to be the case. This is a violent and dangerous world, populated by violent and dangerous characters, many of whom have the double advantage of being able to wield magic and being immortal. It is, strangely, a novel peopled by religious characters that manages to steer clear of the subject of faith (or Faith), bringing the religious mythology from a number of different backgrounds together in a seamless way to tell this gripping story that defies any single genre classification.

The House of Shattered Wings has all the ingredients a good story needs: a well-developed world populated by identifiable, engaging characters whose fate we care about from the moment we meet them and a story that keeps us turning the pages long past bedtime. Stylishly written, this is the most original piece of fiction – I find that “Fantasy” is far too restrictive – you’re likely to come across this year. A wonderful introduction to Aliette de Bodard, who is already an award-winning short story writer, The House of Shattered Wings is an excellent showcase for this mighty talent and adds yet another author to this reader’s “must-read” list.

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Alternate History, Crime Fiction, Fantasy, Magic, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Author’s Notes: THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS by Aliette de Bodard


Aliette de Bodard (

Gollancz (

Hardback £20
eBook £10.99

Today marks the publication of Aliette de Bodard’s stunning debut novel, The House of Shattered Wings. To celebrate, and in anticipation of my forthcoming review of the book, I’m very pleased to welcome Aliette to Reader Dad. She has very kindly provided a short excerpt from the book, and a brief commentary of the section by the author herself. Sit back, enjoy, and whatever you do, don’t miss what is probably the most original (urban) fantasy you’re likely to read for a long time.

For a while, [Philippe] hung suspended in time and space; back to a serenity he’d thought lost, doing nothing but letting the world wash over him, every sensation diminishing until he was once more in that quiet, timeless place where his enlightenment took root.

Gradually—and he wasn’t sure why, or how, or when—it all went away, a slow slide from featureless bliss into something stronger, darker; shadows lengthening over the House, until he stood in a room lined with bookshelves, the only furniture of which was a red plush armchair.

Morningstar sat in the chair. Or rather, lounged in it like a sated tiger, his wings shadowing the sharpness of his face. His pale eyes raking Philippe from top to bottom. “So good of you to come. Shall we start, then?” He inclined his head, and between his spread hands magic whirled and danced, a storm of power that pressed against the bookshelves, stifled the air of the room—cut off Philippe’s breath until it was all he could do to stand.

“I can’t—” he started, and Morningstar shook his head.

“This is power. Embrace it, or others will do it, and leave you gasping in the dust.”

Philippe shook his head, or tried to. He couldn’t seem to move, and Morningstar’s presence was as suffocating as ever—lead pressing on his chest, on his fingers—until it seemed that his nails would lengthen and sharpen, becoming the claws of Morningstar’s own hands. . . .

“Come,” Morningstar said, smiling. “There isn’t much time.”

And he found his feet moving of their own accord, his hands reaching for the magic Morningstar was offering; he took one faltering step into the room, even though his skin was being peeled away from muscle and fat, from bones and glistening veins: one step, then another, straight into the growing maelstrom. . . .

Philippe came to with a gasp. He was standing in a room he had never been to, though he recognized it instantly. It was the same room as in his vision, except that it had badly aged. He had vague memories of exiting the cathedral through a side door, following corridor after corridor; gradually leaving behind the more crowded areas until the House became entombed with dust, gray and bowed with the weight of its true age.

Aliette Says…

One of the things I had to decide on with this novel was what I did with Lucifer Morningstar, the founder of the House where most of the action is set. For various reasons, I removed him from the narration: in the book, he’s been missing for twenty years, and the House he founded finds itself without any of the protections he could have provided. But he can still loom pretty large, given the right circumstances.

Also, the relationship between him and Philippe is… interesting: they’re basically polar opposites. Morningstar is the prime symbol of the House system, and one of the foremost characters to benefit from his position as head of the House. Philippe, meanwhile, is the character who loses the most from that system: as a foreigner and a displaced colonial, he’s burning with an understandable hatred for all Houses!

August 20, 2015 Posted by | Author's Notes, Fantasy, Guest Post | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



Malcolm Mackay

Mantle (


Nate Colgan is a name feared throughout the Glasgow underworld. Now, as “security consultant” for the Jamieson organisation, he has the heft to back up the reputation. Nate’s new job coincides with the murder of one of the members of the Jamieson lower echelon; a new group has moved into Glasgow, from south of the border, according to rumours, and they look to be making a move on an organisation they see as weak. With Peter Jamieson and John Young still serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure in HMP Barlinnie, it’s up to Jamieson’s lieutenants – and the very capable hands of his new security consultant – to deal with the threat before the new boys move in, or the organisation fractures under the strain.

In a very short time, Malcolm Mackay has become a name to watch very closely in crime fiction circles. Every Night I Dream of Hell is his fifth outing since he burst onto the scene in 2013 with The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter and takes us back to the now-comfortable haunt of Glasgow’s criminal underbelly, and the gangs that run it. In a departure from earlier books, Mackay opts for a first-person narrative, presenting a much different voice from the chatty one we have grown used to. He also takes one of the characters who has been part of this world since the very beginning – Nate Colgan’s name appears as far back as Lewis Winter – and drags him into the spotlight, not only introducing us to this man we’ve heard so much about but not yet met, but putting us right inside his head.

As with his previous novels, Mackay hooks the reader very early in the story and quickly notches up the tension until it’s almost impossible to put the book down. This is a world with which regular readers are already intimately familiar, so there is little time wasted on backstory or set-up, the author correctly deciding that if the reader hasn’t been here before, it won’t take long to find their way around the convoluted structure of the Jamieson organisation and the city’s other criminal enterprises. Here are characters we’ve met before like Marty Jones and Kevin Currie, and there is as much interest for the reader in how much these characters have changed – how much they have capitalised on the organisation’s current state – since the last time we encountered them.

Nate Colgan himself is a revelation, the perfect example of how the man and the reputation aren’t necessarily the same thing. From the outset it’s clear that Colgan is extremely intelligent, despite his reputation as a hard man, and all that the phrase suggests. This is a man feared throughout Glasgow, yet when we meet him he is much more human than we might have believed. His new position within the organisation seems long overdue, but it’s obvious to the reader – if not the man himself – that he has been hired as much for his wit and intelligence as his muscle. Colgan is a man with few straightforward relationships: he has tried to keep his young daughter as far away from his reputation as possible and the sudden reappearance of the girl’s mother – readers of Lewis Winter will recognise Zara Cope, even with her clothes on – serves only to disrupt his delicate balancing act. Like Mackay’s other great protagonist, Calum MacLean, Colgan attempts to avoid any complex relationships with women for fear of how they might end, or how they might be used as leverage in the wrong hands.

While the voice is necessarily different, the tone of Every Night I Dream of Hell remains very much unchanged from earlier books in the series. This is dark crime at its very best, shot through with brief glimpses of light and humour. While Colgan may not necessarily be a good man caught in a bad situation, the reader can still feel some sympathy for him; this man who may have made stupid decisions earlier in life and who is now trapped because of them. Mackay has said the decision to use first person was a difficult one to make, but it suits this story and has been used to its advantage: in contrast to earlier books, there is an element of mystery surrounding the events of Every Night I Dream of Hell, an element that allows both Colgan and the reader to put on their deerstalkers, suck at their meerschaum pipes and wonder “whodunit?”. Mackay’s previous, all-encompassing style of storytelling may have made it more difficult to hide the clues than by keeping the novel’s protagonist in the dark.

One of the key strengths of Mackay’s storytelling is his ability to avoid absolutes: there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” here, just varying shades of “questionable”, regardless of what side of the law they’re on. DI Michael Fisher, who put Jamieson away, returns and even his motives aren’t entirely clear. This is the dark underworld of Glasgow, and Mackay knows that there is no saviour, there’s just the status quo and the bad things that sometimes must happen to ensure that it isn’t interrupted. For this reason, if for no other, Colgan is the perfect man to stand at the centre of Every Night I Dream of Hell: his thought processes and very character mirror on a smaller scale what is happening around him.

This one feels very much like I’m preaching to the choir: those who have read Malcolm Mackay’s earlier novels will know what to expect, and will probably already have committed to read Every Night I Dream of Hell regardless of what anyone else thinks. For those who haven’t, this isn’t necessarily the best place to start; it can be read without having read the Glasgow Trilogy, but you’ll be missing out on the much richer experience that more than a nodding acquaintanceship with this world provides. Either way, this is noir fiction at its best: sharp and cloaked in shadows, with more than a hint of humour, and enough blood to keep the wheels greased. Malcolm Mackay continues to produce engaging and thought-provoking work in a beautiful prose style that puts him head and shoulders above his contemporaries. In a word: perfect.

August 13, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Fanboy Gushings | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WAY DOWN DARK by J. P. Smythe

WDD WAY DOWN DARK (Book 1 of The Australia Trilogy)

J. P. Smythe (

Hodder & Stoughton (


When Chan Aitch’s mother dies, she leaves a gaping hole in the so-called power structure aboard the Australia. Chan is left to pick up the pieces, and attempt to defend the part of the ship previously controlled by her mother against the Lows, who are set on taking complete control at the cost of the lives of anyone who does not believe in their extreme philosophy. But the Australia holds many secrets, from Chan herself, and from the rest of the people aboard, secrets that will call into question the very reason for their existence. As violence threatens to consume the entire ship, Chan realises that there may be a way to escape, and to save the ship’s innocents in the process.

With his latest novel, Way Down Dark, James Smythe moves into the realms of Young Adult fiction, though this is like no YA fiction that you’ve seen before – as dark as the title suggests, this is an intense and frightening novel with more than a little adult appeal.

Set in a far future, Way Down Dark tells the story of a small portion of the human race sent into space after catastrophic events have made the Earth all but inhabitable. Their mission, several hundred years and many generations later, is to find a habitable planet, and rebuild civilisation from the ground up. Their home for all that time, the giant spaceship Australia, a sort of Mega-City One Block-in-space.

When we encounter Chan and the Australia, we find ourselves on board a ship that is the very definition of “run down” – lights don’t work; air and water processing systems are patchy; and the floor of the towering structure is buried under hundreds of years of filth and refuse and the bodies of those who have died during the ship’s long journey. Imagining the worst possible scenario, Smythe gives us a population that has split into a number of distinct groups. On one side are those struggling to survive; on the other, the Lows, tattooed and maimed madmen and –women who want control of the whole ship whatever the cost. Aloof from (and quite literally above) both groups are the mysterious Pale Women, a semi-religious cult who seem to have plans for Chan.

From the outset, the tension is palpable, and Smythe succeeds in making us feel claustrophobic despite the size of the ship in which Chan is imprisoned. Chan is the perfect guide for our journey into this strange new place: she is deeply conflicted and still mourning the loss of her mother, but manages to find the strength to stand up to the constant advances of the Lows into the territory that she has inherited. There are several detours into the head of Agatha, her mother’s friend and a guardian angel of sorts for the girl who she first saved many years earlier, which gives us a look at Chan’s family history, and a better understanding of the currently politics of Australia.

Smythe’s latest novel has much to recommend it: his track record in writing gripping, engaging and thought-provoking science fiction; the shift from HarperCollins to Hodder & Stoughton whose own track record with the genre is second to none. But the story itself, and the characters that inhabit it, is, as always, the biggest draw to a Smythe novel. The word “Smythesque” has been bandied about for some time, and there is a definite style, a definite theme, for want of a better word, that sets his novels apart from those of his contemporaries. Unfortunately for Smythe, the reader will always have a set of preconceived notions of what his books should be. Fortunately for the reader, Smythe shows us that he can meet these expectations in many ways, but that he can also surprise us: the novel we think we’re reading as Way Down Dark opens is very different from the novel we find ourselves holding as we close the back cover, and it leaves us crying out for the next instalment of this excellent new trilogy.

Combining elements of Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Mad Max with a dash of Dredd for good measure, Way Down Dark is one of the most original science fiction novels you’re likely to encounter this year. Branded as “Young Adult”, there is a darkness to the story that will appeal to an older audience, showing that Smythe has a good grasp on what makes a story like this truly universal. This is a writer who continues to go from strength to strength and shows no signs of slowing down. If you’re yet to jump on the bandwagon, Way Down Dark is the perfect place to start, and with the second book in the trilogy, Long Dark Dusk, already announced, there is no better time to jump into Chan’s world, and explore the Australia. While it’s not an entirely pleasant journey (the story most definitely lives up to the title’s Dark), this is a book that’s almost impossible to set down once you’ve started reading, and a story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished.

July 24, 2015 Posted by | Fanboy Gushings, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GUEST POST: Thriller vs Horror by TIM LEBBON

Hunt Front Cover hi-res NEW Name: TIM LEBBON (writing as T.J. Lebbon)

Author of: WHITE (1999)
                 BERSERK (2006)
                 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007)
                 COLDBROOK (2012)
                 THE HUNT (2015)

On the web:

On Twitter: @timlebbon

Tim Lebbon, best known for his horror novels, is releasing his first thriller (under the name T.J. Lebbon) on 16th July. It’s a fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat beauty, and I will be reviewing it here on Reader Dad next week. For now, I’m very pleased – not to mention excited – to welcome Tim to the blog, to talk about the differences between writing in the two genres.

They say you should write about what you know. That’s interesting advice when you’re a horror and dark fantasy writer. I’ve never met zombies and have never seen a ghost, but the advice is not literal. I know about fear and loss, love and grief, and it’s this aspect of what you know that you try to inject into a story to bring it to life.

If you have seen a ghost, all the better.

Until I wrote The Hunt, everything I ever wrote had some element of the supernatural or fantastic about it. This includes over thirty novels (seven in collaboration with Christopher Golden), over twenty novellas, and hundreds of shorts stories, as well as several screenplays. I’ve often been asked why I write horror, and my answers vary quite a bit. Mostly, I just say that it’s the way my parents put my hat on. I don’t like to analyse why I write what I do, in the same why I don’t think too much about why I prefer red wine over white, rock and punk instead of pop, or red meat instead of fish. It’s a matter of taste, and taste is part of what makes us unique.

And then I wrote a thriller.

I’ve been wanting to write a thriller for some time. Part of it was wanting to stretch my writer’s wings a little and see if I could write something that has no supernatural elements. I’ve stopped and started a few thrillers over the years, and one or two of these have changed into horror or even fantasy novels. But with The Hunt I knew what it was right from the beginning.

And it really was writing about what I knew.

I got into endurance sports a little over four years ago. I went from a standing start––overweight and unfit, I found a sport I loved, and it really changed my life. I’ve written elsewhere about the process, what I went through, and how it all happened. Suffice to say, a little over two years after starting to exercise seriously (at the age of 41) I raced my first Ironman. That’s a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon, all in under seventeen hours.

I started to learn about effort and pain, the physiology of exercise, the feeling of being up in the hills tired and thirsty and hurting, and still have a few miles to go until home. I loved it. I enjoyed being alone, and discovering a sport which is all about yourself, not teammates.

Being a writer, I knew that I’d write about this one day.

The Hunt is the result, a novel written with no contract in place, and definitely one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve ever had.

So what was the difference between writing The Hunt and any of the horror/fantasy novels I’ve written? In truth, very little difference. The process was the same, and perhaps the greatest change was the amount of research involved in this book over others.

Firstly, I wanted to really use my new experiences as an endurance sports competitor. That was writing about what I knew (or what I was still learning a lot about, at least). Secondly, I had to get the landscape right. Set in the mountains of Wales, I needed to know the nature of the hills and valleys, their ruggedness and beauty, the weather, flora and fauna. Whereas in my fantasy novels I’d been able to make this all up (the sentient tumbleweed in Dusk being a particular favourite), in The Hunt I had to get it right. Although I did take geographical liberties, I like to think I got the feel of the mountains and wilderness just right.

I also had to research trophy hunting. That wasn’t very nice, and perhaps that’s the closest I got to horror with this novel.

Other aspects of writing remained the same. My characters were still thrust into shocking and dangerous situations, the only difference being that the main threat was from other people, not something supernatural (and aren’t we the scariest monsters anyway?).

I suppose the biggest difference about writing The Hunt has been since I’ve actually finished the writing process. After selling it to the very wonderful Avon, I soon came to realise that here I was, over thirty novels into my career, and now I was a debut novelist again! It was a strange feeling, but a strangely liberating one, too. I’m sure a few people will see through the cunning pseudonym of T. J. Lebbon, but working with Avon and their splendid PR company The Light Brigade has been a unique experience for me. I have features and interviews upcoming in the national press, and next week when the paperback is released I’ll see it on supermarket shelves. These are both new experiences for me.

As a debut novelist, these are exciting times!

July 9, 2015 Posted by | Guest Post, Horror, Thriller | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

COMPETITION: Win a Copy of Jonathan Freedland’s THE 3RD WOMAN

The 3rd Woman Jacket image THE THIRD WOMAN

Jonathan Freedland (

HarperCollins (


To celebrate the release on July 2nd of Jonathan Freedland’s exciting new thriller, The 3rd Woman, which I will be reviewing here soon, those lovely folks at HarperCollins Publishers have given us three copies of the novel to give away. It couldn’t be simpler to be in with a chance to win: simply click here to send me an email with the answer to the question below as well as your name and postal address:

The 3rd Woman is Jonathan Freedland’s first novel published under his own name, but it’s not his first published novel. Jonathan has had a successful career publishing thrillers under a well-know pseudonym. What is it?

Entries must be received by midnight on Thursday 9th July, and the winners will be notified on Friday 10th July. This competition is open to UK residents only.

Don’t forget to follow the The Third Woman tour (see the banner for details), keep up to date with the buzz on Twitter and check back next week when I will be posting my own thoughts on the novel.


July 4, 2015 Posted by | Competition, Crime Fiction, Thriller | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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