Reader Dad – Book Reviews

Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews

An Interview with OWEN LAUKKANEN

OwenLaukkanen Name: OWEN LAUKKANEN

Author of: THE PROFESSIONALS (2014)
                 CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE (2014)
                 KILL FEE (2015)
                 THE STOLEN ONES (Forthcoming, May 2015)

Owen Laukkanen graduated from the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing program before spending three years as a reporter in the world of professional poker. He lives in Vancouver, where he writes the successful Stevens and Windermere series.

Thank you, Owen, for taking the time to chat with us.

My pleasure! Thanks very much for having me.

The Stevens and Windermere books are set in and around Minnesota’s Twin Cities. It seems an odd location, not as instantly-recognisable as, say, New York or Los Angeles, especially to us non-Americans. What’s the logic behind the setting and why choose it over those other places, or even your native Vancouver?

There’s kind of a funny story about how the books came to be set in Minnesota, which was not something I’d planned to do. I’d spent very little time in the Twin Cities before I wrote The Professionals, so I was really unprepared to have to go back and set a series there.

I’m one of those writers who doesn’t think before he types, which is to say, I like to start with a character and a crime and let the story unfold as it wants to. The Professionals is about a group of nomadic kidnappers, and I started the book somewhat arbitrarily in Chicago.

Being nomadic, they needed somewhere to go from the Windy City, and I (again, pretty arbitrarily), sent them north to Minnesota, whereupon I needed some law enforcement to act as foils for the group, and voila, in came Stevens and Windermere.

I’d really intended for the kidnappers to be the main characters of the book, and it wasn’t until the book was finished that my American publisher broached the idea of creating a series around Stevens and Windermere, and I found myself suddenly having to do a lot of research about the Twin Cities as I prepared to write the second, and later books.

That said, I feel pretty lucky to have happened into this Minnesota locale, as it gives me plenty of excuses to visit Minneapolis and Saint Paul, both of which are wonderful. And the state as a whole is a lot like Canada, where I’m from, so it’s not an entirely alien place to be writing about.

As far as setting a book in Vancouver, or anywhere in Canada, I confess to being a little bit of a mercenary. Put plain, books set in Canada don’t seem to sell very well, internationally or at home. There’s a notion that in order to succeed in Canada as an artist, you have to be seen to have succeeded in America, and I wanted to reach as wide a readership as I could.

I’ve spent enough time in the United States that I feel I can write about it credibly, but I do sometimes think wistfully about setting something in Vancouver, which is certainly rife with its own criminal possibilities.

In the early books of the series, at least, Kirk and Carla aren’t your average police procedural partners, given that they work for different agencies (Stevens for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; Windermere for the FBI). The job titles inform a lot of the dynamics between the pair. How did the relationship develop as you began writing the series, and did you have a specific goal in separating the pair?

Essentially, the relationship developed out of jurisdictional necessity. Stevens is a state policeman, and I imagined that he would be the first agent called to deal with The Professionals’ band of kidnappers, but I knew he would need FBI help.

As I said, I initially intended for the pair to act as foils for my criminal protagonists, so I didn’t give very much thought to their relationship at first. In fact, I think Windermere is a little one-dimensional in the first book, as I figured she would be more of a plot device than a main character.

It was really a lot of fun to go back and explore their relationship, and especially Windermere as a character, in the second book, Criminal Enterprise, though obviously it’s difficult to keep coming up with reasons that an FBI agent and a state policeman would work together on multiple cases. I think I’ve come up with a workable long-term solution by now, but it’s been something of a challenge to keep them together without straining credibility too much.

Speaking of dynamics: the sexual tension between this pair is palpable from the outset; despite this, the relationship remains (reasonably) professional throughout. Do you feel that the sexual tension is necessary, or important, in helping you develop the characters?

That’s a good question, and it’s certainly something that readers seem to have strong feelings about, one way or the other! I think the sexual tension served a purpose, especially in the early books, as it helped to flesh out the characters and give them lives outside of the investigation they were conducting.

Obviously, characters are more interesting to read about when they’re fully realized and have relatable wants and needs, and I think it’s easier to make a bad guy into a compelling character, simply by virtue of their reasons for committing crimes. I wanted to give the reader a reason to tune into the police chapters, too, and sexual tension seemed like a pretty straightforward way of making them interesting.

That said, readers do tend to take sides, and I’ve received more than a few emails asking when Stevens and Windermere will finally hook up, or begging me to cut the tension out entirely so Stevens can focus on his wife. I think as the series moves on and the characters grow and develop a bit more, the romantic element might wax and wane, but I do think it’s been useful.

You’ve written (or, at the very least, published here in the UK) the first four books of the Stevens and Windermere series in fairly rapid succession. Do you have plans for future volumes in the series, or any plans to write non-series books?

I do! At present, I’m revising the fifth book in the series, which will come out in North America in 2016, and I’m under contract for a sixth book as well. The fifth one is quite dark; the series seems to be getting darker as I go, but I think it might be the best book of the lot.

And I actually have a young adult novel coming out under a pen name very soon! It’s called HOW TO WIN AT HIGH SCHOOL and is written by “Owen Matthews,” and comes out in North America on March 3rd. I have no big plans to jump ship to the YA side of things completely, but it was really fun to work on something completely different. It’s actually the first novel I ever wrote, when I was about nineteen or twenty, and I kept it in the proverbial drawer for a decade or so before dusting it off and realizing it wasn’t as embarrassing as I might have feared.

My real dream, though, is to write a series of nautical adventure novels, and I’m tinkering with the first one right now, though finding time has been difficult with the Stevens and Windermere series, and this YA novel.

What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?

I remember reading John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row in high school and really admiring the language and the imagery it evoked, and wishing I could create something so vivid and alive. I think that’s the book that first made me want to be a writer.

I probably tend to hew closer to the James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard models, with their short, punchy sentences and minimal description. Bret Easton Ellis is another writer whose minimalist style I admire, though I find the content kind of hit-or-miss.

And I was lucky enough to have one of my all-time favourite authors, a Cherokee-Canadian writer named Thomas King, as a creative writing professor in university. He’s probably been the most influential, just as far as the technical aspect of writing is concerned. He taught me how to look critically at my own work and to cut, cut, cut anything that doesn’t serve the story, which is invaluable knowledge for any writer.

And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?

I find that the writers I admire most are those who can seemingly pull beautiful, evocative, lyrical sentences out of thin air. I’m not one for much description in my writing, in part because whenever I try to wax rhapsodic about anything, it comes off as purple and overwrought.

But I really envy writers like Michael Chabon, Raymond Chandler, Patrick DeWitt and Amor Towles (among many, many others) for the beauty of their prose, where my own work, in comparison, serves a rather more workmanlike function.

What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Owen Laukkanen look like?

Typically, a day in my life involves a lot of procrastination! I work five days a week, Monday through Friday, and I try to get about five thousand words written each day, which allows me to get a first draft of a novel hammered out in about four to six weeks. Mind, they’re not particularly good words, but at the very least, I get a draft out and then can settle into the more difficult task of editing my pile of words into something resembling a novel.

Last September, my girlfriend and I adopted a puppy, a year-old rescue pitbull named Lucy, and as my girlfriend works a normal job, it usually falls to me to keep the puppy occupied. So I take the dog for a long walk along the ocean in the morning, and in the afternoon, I write while the dog sleeps it off. If I time it right, I can get the five thousand words in before the dog wakes up and demands her evening walk.

That said, I do find it a little tough writing when there’s a giant mass of sleeping dog cuddled up against me, or better yet, wanting to play. I generally can’t resist her, so the writing is coming a little slower as of late!

And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?

My main advice is to finish the damn draft. In my experience, there are a lot of aspiring writers out there who spend their time tinkering with the first ten chapters of their novel, but whose desire to get the beginning perfect prevents them from actually finishing the thing.

I’m a huge advocate of giving yourself permission to write an absolutely horrible first draft, because then at the very least you have a novel with a beginning, middle and end, and you can then set about revising it into something publishable. But if you’re stuck with the first thirty pages of something, no matter how beautifully written, you’ll never get your book published. So my main piece of advice is to write a first draft, no matter how awful.

My second piece of advice is to learn how to edit your own work as critically as you would your worst enemy’s, and to pick out and cut anything extraneous from your text. This often requires a lot of holding one’s nose, as it’s painful to cut out wonderfully written passages that do absolutely nothing to further your plot, but the sooner you learn to do this, the better.

If you can identify the flaws in your own work and learn to correct them, you’re miles ahead of the game.

What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?

I’m reading a novel called Where All Light Tends To Go, by an American author named David Joy. It’s partly for business and partly for pleasure, as he and I share an American publisher and will be doing a couple of events together when The Stolen Ones, my fourth, comes out in March.

The publisher sent me a galley of his book, and so far it’s really good, unflinching rural noir. I’d have read the book even if I’d have had to pay for it, so I’m doubly lucky.

If the Stevens and Windermere should ever make the jump from page to screen, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?

Oh man, this is a question I’ve been asked a fair bit, and I never have any good answers for it. I like Aisha Tyler (from Archer) or Zoe Saldana for Windermere, but for Stevens, I’m lost. As for directors, The Professionals was influenced to a pretty major extent by Michael Mann’s Heat, and I would go nuts if he ever got his hands on a Professionals script.

And finally, on a lighter note…

If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?

Oh, good question, and impossible to narrow down. I’d like to have a beer with John Steinbeck, preferably on the docks in Monterey, and since my tastes skew to the nautical, I also wouldn’t pass up a drink with Herman Melville or Joseph Conrad, either.

I also confess a weakness for, ahem, British theatre of the late 19th century, so I would happily drink with Oscar Wilde and/or George Bernard Shaw, as well. In all of the above instances, the drink would be alcoholic, and my contribution to the discussion would mostly be my attempting to avoid saying anything foolish, which actually sums up most of my interactions with other people, be they literary titans or otherwise.

Thank you once again, Owen, for taking time out to share your thoughts.

Thanks again for having me! This was a lot of fun.

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Interview, Thriller | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

KILL FEE by Owen Laukkanen

KILL FEE - Owen Laukkanen KILL FEE

Owen Laukkanen (owenlaukkanen.com)

Corvus (atlantic-books.co.uk)

7.99

The billionaire picked a heck of a day to die.

One of Minnesota’s richest men is gunned down in the driveway of the Saint Paul Hotel, in downtown Saint Paul, less than a hundred yards from where Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere are sitting on a bench, enjoying a sunny April Saturday. The shooter escapes, but not before Stevens and Windermere see his face, and the emptiness in his eyes. Working together, and with the resources of the FBI behind them, the pair soon track the shooter, as he prepares to kill again in Windermere’s old stomping ground, Miami. As the body count mounts, and the FBI fail to find anything linking the victims, they discover the existence of Killswitch, a highly-secure and well-hidden website that allows people to purchase assassinations and that seems to be operating under the auspices of the Department of Defence. Working in the dark, and against the clock, Stevens and Windermere must find the owner of Killswitch before he can accept any more commissions.

Owen Laukkanen’s detective duo – Minnesota BCA’s Kirk Stevens and the FBI’s Carla Windermere – return for their third outing in Kill Fee. One of the problems Laukkanen was always going to face with this teaming was the plausibility of having them work together on a long succession of cases. This is a problem he solves for the longer term as the novel comes to a close, but for this outing, placing them at the scene of the crime effectively side-steps any problems he might have had, and makes their involvement, and their partnership, seem completely natural.

As with previous outings, Kill Fee is told from multiple points of view as the story progresses, including those of the story’s criminal elements. The plot device – the murder-for-hire website – is an update of the age-old hitman storyline that feels like it might have been plucked from today’s headlines. What makes it all the more believable is Parkerson, the man behind it, who comes across as an ordinary everyday businessman who runs the website on the side as a way of generating some extra cash, in the same way that he might sell his IT skills, or his family hierlooms on eBay.

Following the Saint Paul hit, and the identification of his killer, there is a subtle shift in Parkerson’s fortunes. As we watch his world slowly crumbling around him, and get to know more about the man behind Killswitch, we are forced to question how well we know those people who are closest to us. As with both Arthur Pender (The Professionals) and Carter Tomlin (Criminal Enterprise), Parkerson is the man next door, a theme that serves to ground this series of novels in reality and gives the reader a more immediate sense of danger as the story moves towards its climax.

Back in the driving seat once again are Stevens and Windermere, the unlikely team who nevertheless work so well together. The relationship has evolved somewhat since we first met them in The Professionals, though some things remain a constant: the sexual tension continues, though here it serves a more obvious purpose than in the previous two books. Here Kirk has some competition for Carla’s affections in the form of Derek Mathers, her young, good-looking FBI partner and this leads to a number of standoffs between the three characters. As the novel comes to a close, there is a feeling that this irritant, which serves mainly to distract from the central plot, may finally have been put to bed (pardon the pun), leaving room for a bit less teenage angst in the coming books of the series.

As the characters develop, Laukkanen’s work goes from strength to strength, his unusual pairing – characters who feel a little bit more alive and real with each passing novel – and uncommon setting making the Stevens and Windermere series something of a breath of fresh air in an otherwise crowded genre. By turns funny and tense, Kill Fee is an excellent addition to an already-excellent new series. Relatable characters combined with a plausible and well-constructed plot make this a fun and satisfying read that is perfect for anyone who claims to enjoy a good crime novel. Kill Fee puts Owen Laukkanen firmly on my must-read list and I’m already counting down to the arrival of the series’ fourth book later this year.

February 24, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Fanboy Gushings, Thriller | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GUEST POST: Too Dangerous to Make a Movie There by PAUL E. HARDISTY

Paul_Hardisty2 Name: PAUL E. HARDISTY

Author of: THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING (2015)

On the web: paulehardisty.wix.com/paulehardisty

On Twitter: @Hardisty_Paul

My new novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, published by Orenda Books, is set in Yemen, a country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a thriller based around a set of experiences I had working there over a period of about 15 years. Of course, those events have been fictionalised, and as it says inside the front cover: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” Loosely translated: fiction is truer than non-fiction. So true that to protect himself and the reader, the author has to camouflage it, transform it into an entertainment.

Yemen would be a fabulous place to set a movie. It’s the most photogenic place I’ve ever seen. Landscapes as big as the whole sky, faces weathered by sun and labour, not yet homogenised by modern dentistry and skincare, bodies clothed each by hand, mud-brick and alabaster towns and hamlets clinging to the sides of desert wadis and bleak andesite cliffs. Oases strung like gems on a fishing line, heartbeats of life clinging to isolated sockets in the ancient Palaeocene limestone plateaux. But the truth is that it’s too dangerous to make a movie there.

Yemen is not really a country, as we would understand it. Sure it’s got a place on the map. They even, in just the last few years, got around to actually delineating the northern border with Saudi Arabia. Before that, it existed only as an uncertainty, a dotted line running through the Rhub Al’Khali, the Empty Quarter, a hundred thousand square miles of shifting desert sand as inhospitable as any place on the planet. It has a capital city (Sana’a, with its wonderful world heritage old-town), a flag, a national anthem. It even has what is supposed to be a government, and money. Except that the government has no control outside the main cities. What Yemen has, has had for ever, is tribes. They are the real power in this place that passes for a modern state. They are heavily armed, fiercely independent, and mostly they just want to be left alone. If you want to see Arabia as it was two hundred years ago, go. You can still see it, if you can get there.

So, for me, it makes it a perfect setting for a book. I know the place, or rather parts of the place, reasonably well. I’ve met some amazing people there, seen some pretty sad and beautiful and scary things there. I hope, one day, the people of Yemen can enjoy a time when it might be possible for people to travel the country in relative safety, maybe even make a film version of The Abrupt Physics of Dying there. I think it would make a pretty good movie.

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February 20, 2015 Posted by | Guest Post, Thriller | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

THOSE ABOVE by Daniel Polansky

those-above-cover THOSE ABOVE (The Empty Throne Book 1)

Daniel Polansky (www.danielpolansky.com)

Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk)

£18.99

It is almost thirty years since the war between mankind and Those Above, the godlike creatures who live at the top of the great mountain city, The Roost. Now, as the warlike Aelerian people contemplate breaking the truce that has seen peace reign over the continent since those terrible days, a second war seems inevitable. Bas, general of Aeleria’s great Western Army and the only human ever to have defeated one of Those Above in single combat, has been promoted, and tasked with raising a new legion who will lead the charge; behind him is Eudokia, the most powerful woman in the country, whose husband was killed during the first war, and who has a thirst for revenge; in the lowest rung of The Roost, young Thistle progresses from petty criminal to murderer, and finds himself at the centre of a rebellion still very much in its infancy; at the top of the mountain, all but oblivious to the creatures with whom they share the continent, Those Above believe themselves untouchable, inviolate.

I fell in love with Daniel Polansky’s The Straight Razor Cure within the first handful of pages when I read it back in 2012. The unique mix of fantasy and hard-boiled crime appealed to me, and the central character, Warden, demanded that I keep coming back for more. The Low Town trilogy went from strength to strength (to the point where I was unable to write a review of the final book, She Who Waits, because of how completely Polansky broke me in the process of laying out his story). It was, then, with some trepidation that I picked up Those Above – it, and the series that it begins, The Empty Throne, has a lot to live up to. Focussing more on the fantasy, and ditching the crime in favour of an ancient Roman vibe, it is, in many ways, a much different beast to Polansky’s first trilogy, while still keeping the hard core that made those books so enjoyable.

The first major difference is the novel’s scope, both in terms of the area it covers, and also in the number of point-of-view characters Polansky uses to tell the story. The story is told from four key points of view: Bas, Eudokia, Thistle and Calla, the human servant of the Aubade, one of the most powerful of Those Above. It’s interesting to note that, while we get dispatches from the lords of the First Rung through Calla, we never really get to see their direct point of view. For the others, the spread gives us an interesting insight into this new world of Polansky’s and the various types of people that populate it. The most interesting part of this world is The Roost itself, a mountain city that is split into five rungs, with the inhabitants split according to rank or status: Those Above live in the first rung, at the mountain’s peak, while society’s dregs (which includes young Thistle) populate the city’s lowest, or Fifth, Rung.

The history of the creatures that live in the First Rung is scarce, though we know that they are a long-lived people who differ physically from humans in many ways: their size, their four fingers, to name but a few. Their politics and rituals are shown through the eyes of Calla, and feel slightly less alien to us, the reader, because of her own closeness to the Aubade, and familiarity with their ways. Their lack of emotion, and their superior approach to humans – they are to humans what humans are to bugs – are a frightening concept and lead to some beautifully-wrought scenes of horror as the novel progresses.

Outside of these godlike creatures, Polansky presents us humanity in all its glory: the field general and his men; the political machinations in Aeleria’s capital city, machinations that would give George R. R. Martin nightmares; and the childhood gangs and violence spawned by poverty in the lower reaches of The Roost, which are a stark contrast to the conditions deeper within the city.

As I mentioned earlier, Those Above has a dark, hard core, a gritty sense of reality that can often be missing from fantasy novels, and a voice that is unmistakably that of the brilliant writer who brought us Warden’s adventures in Low Town. If I have one complaint, it’s that Those Above feels like what it is: the first book in a fantasy series that needs to put everything in place in order for the reader to feel at home. There is plenty of action, but it takes second place to the world-building and chess-like manoeuvring, and there is little more than a token gesture at encapsulating a complete plot within the confines of the book’s four hundred-odd pages. Not a shock, by any means, to fans of this kind of epic fantasy – and let me make that point clear, this is epic – but worth knowing at the outset. That said, what does exist within those four hundred-odd pages is pure gold, compelling character-building, world-building and story-telling by a master of his art, and more than enough to have me coming back to Aeleria and The Roost for many, many more visits.

Dark fantasy with a decidedly military bent, Those Above is the perfect opener for Daniel Polansky’s career beyond Low Town. With his unmistakeable voice and his highly original new world, he draws the reader slowly in until it’s impossible to put the book down and escape back to reality. A brilliant start to what is sure to be one of the fantasy epics of all time, Those Above is the work of an author at the top of his game and brings with it the promise of a lot more to come.

February 18, 2015 Posted by | Fanboy Gushings, Fantasy, Military | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Interview with STEVE CAVANAGH

stephen_mearns_2 Name: STEVE CAVANAGH

Author of: THE DEFENCE (2015)

On the web: stevecavanagh.com

On Twitter: @SSCav

Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast, where he currently works as a practicing solicitor in the field of civil rights law. The Defence is his first novel.

Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to chat with us.

No problem, it’s my pleasure.

Modern Irish crime writers seem to take one of two routes: they write about Ireland and all the baggage that comes with it, or they take their fiction on the road. Eddie Flynn is a New York-based lawyer. Was there any sort of decision-making process around whether you should write Irish crime fiction and, if so, why did you choose the American route?

There are a few reasons I chose to base the book in the US. One thing that stands out to me is that I’m mainly influenced by American crime writers and books set in the US. Michael Connelly is a major influence and I would’ve read mostly US based fiction – although in recent years there has been more of a balance between US, UK and Irish fiction. The other major factor was that I wanted to write a legal thriller and that creates its own difficulties if you set that book in Northern Ireland. Largely because we have a dual system of representation; if you find yourself in court you will have a solicitor and a barrister representing you. The solicitor does most of the early court appearances and prepares the case for trial and the barrister performs the role of the trial advocate. At the time I didn’t feel confident about creating two lead characters – particularly when one character, the barrister, would inevitably be the one doing all the cool courtroom scenes. It didn’t seem balanced to me. So I felt setting the book in the US solved that problem as attorneys in America perform both roles and I could concentrate on a single lead character to focus the story.

Your short story “The Grey” was included in the recent Belfast Noir anthology, so you obviously have no qualms about writing fiction set in your native city. Do you see yourself producing anything novel-sized in the future?

I might well do, but not at the moment. I’m very pleased to have that short story in the anthology, and it was fun to write, but I’m not sure about a full length novel set in Belfast. Part of the reason I wrote The Defence was to have a little escape from the day job of being a lawyer. I do some work in the criminal courts so murder and mayhem in Belfast is still my 9 – 5 and I didn’t particularly want to come home and write about it at night. Maybe if I ever become a full time writer I’ll consider it. I do have an idea for a Belfast based character but at the moment I’m not sure if that story would be best told in a novel or on the screen.

The Defence puts us firmly in the head of Eddie Flynn, a con-man turned lawyer, which gives him a somewhat unique perspective on how the law works. How much research did you find yourself doing to get the detail – both of setting and of American judicial procedures, etc. – right?

I can tell you there was a tonne of research done into the legal procedures and virtually none of it made it into the book. I have textbooks on US criminal procedures, I’ve been taught by American lawyers and I strive to get it right but not let it interrupt the flow of the story. In terms of the setting, I also did a lot of research into New York City, and ultimately I took the Ed McBain approach and decided that some of the locations should be fictionalised, the courthouse in particular. There was a courthouse on Chambers Street, but it’s now the department of Education’s head office. I took that courthouse and made it bigger and more grand for the book. I wanted the reader to get a sense of New York, so again a lot of research and not much made it onto the page, but I felt as though I was informed enough to write about it. The other great advantage to setting your book in New York is that the reader already has a strong mental image of that city already, even if they’ve never been there.

What’s next for Eddie? There’s always an assumption with this kind of character that they’re a series character. Is this the case with Eddie, or have you set your sights elsewhere for your second novel?

No mistake about it, I’m writing a series. Eddie is such a fascinating character, to me at least, that for the moment all I want to do is write about him. That may change down the line, of course. I’ve always loved series characters and I envisaged this as a series from the very first book. The second book in the series has the working title – The Plea. It’s a much more complex book, but it hopefully retains the key ingredients from The Defence.

When it comes to thrillers, there is always a sense that the protagonist comes out the far end somewhat the worse for wear, almost as if the authors have a sadistic streak that needs to be satiated. Eddie joins a long and prestigious line of leading men who go through a lot of pain in order to entertain the reader (between beatings and night-time jaunts around high ledges). What’s the attraction, and do you ever feel sorry for the character even as you’re twisting the knife?

I do feel sorry for Eddie, and I don’t. All the stories that I love have characters facing real adversity and eventually coming through on the other side as the victor. Everyone loves an underdog – that’s why Rocky, Ruby, John McClane etc are such beloved characters. Plus I enjoy the challenge – when I put Eddie in a terrible situation I’m often not sure how or if he’s going to get out of it. It’s fun figuring out the problems through him.

What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?

Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver, John Grisham, John Mortimer, the poet Robert Service, Brendan Behan…quite a big list. Too many to name.

And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?

A lot more than one – The Black Echo (Michael Connelly) Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris) Every Dead Thing (John Connolly). Yeah, imagine you’ve just written the Silence of the Lambs – damn.

What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Steve Cavanagh look like?

Well none of it happens during the day. I’m usually up around 6.30am to help get the kids ready for school, I go to work, come home around 6.30pm, eat, see my family, and the writing day begins around 10pm. I write until I fall asleep, which can sometimes mean I get four hours of writing done or four minutes.

And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?

Write the book you want to read – polish the hell out of it – send it to a handful of agents at a time and believe in yourself. If you get rejections, which you will, just move on to the next agent as a rejection often tells you absolutely nothing about the quality of your book.

What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?

I’m about to start CJ Sansom’s Lamentation, then I’ve got a couple of Reacher’s to catch up on.

If The Defence should ever make the jump from page to screen, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?

I’m a big Christopher McQuarrie fan, and if he wanted to direct I’d have him in a heartbeat. As for lead actors – I have a notion that Ryan Gosling would be a good Eddie Flynn, but I don’t know why. I don’t have a solid view of any actor for Eddie, really. Any good actor would be fine, just as long as it’s not Randy Quaid I’d be quite happy.

And finally, on a lighter note…

If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?

Spike Milligan. I wouldn’t say a word, I’d just listen to him. He didn’t drink alcohol so some tea would be just fine.

Thank you once again, Steve, for taking time out to share your thoughts.

It’s been an honour.

February 16, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Interview, Irish, Thriller | , , , , | Leave a comment

THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh

THE DEFENCE - Steve Cavanagh THE DEFENCE

Steve Cavanagh (stevecavanagh.com)

Orion Books (www.orionbooks.co.uk)

£12.99

“Do exactly as I tell you or I’ll put a bullet in your spine.”

Pushing the gun hard into my back, he said, “I’ll follow you out of the bathroom. You’ll put on your coat. You’ll pay for breakfast, and we’ll leave together. We’re going to talk. If you do as I tell you, you’ll be fine. If you don’t – you’re dead.”

Eddie Flynn was an ex-con-man-turned lawyer. These days, he’s an ex-lawyer-turned-alcoholic who hasn’t set foot in a courtroom in a year, following the breakdown of a high-profile case. Now, in the bathroom of the diner where he eats breakfast every day, a Russian mobster has put a gun to his back and abducted him. The gangster has a proposal for Eddie, the type of proposal that a person doesn’t turn down: Eddie will defend Olek Volchek, the head of the Russian mafia, in an impossible murder trial with a bomb strapped to his back. For added incentive, Olek is holding Eddie’s daughter hostage, and Eddie has forty-eight hours to defend his client, or work out a way to get his daughter back. Luckily for Eddie, his chequered past has left him with a lot of contacts, and more than a few owed favours.

Belfast native Steve Cavanagh describes his debut novel, The Defence, as a “legal-thriller”. This reader can reveal that the emphasis is most definitely on the thriller, though the plot does allow for a fair amount of courtroom drama. We are introduced to Eddie Flynn, one-time con-man, one-time practicing lawyer, at the moment that the Russian mafia decides that he can help them achieve their nefarious ends in the trial of their leader, Olek Volchek. This tense and riveting opening gives us little time to get to know Eddie before he is thrown into the thick of the plot, so much of what we know about him by the end of the novel we learn in bite-sized chunks between the almost-relentless action.

It quickly becomes clear that Eddie Flynn is more than your average muscle-bound action hero.There is wit and a sly intelligence here, and a pride in his own ability that makes it clear he was once a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom. His dark past, the life of a petty criminal, and his close relationship with the leadership of the city’s Italian mafia, add to the mystery, and provide him with an almost endless source of resources to tap, and contacts on whom he can call in his hour of need. The daughter – held hostage by Volchek’s minions against Eddie’s continued cooperation – adds some further meat to the bones of this already well-fleshed character: Eddie’s life may be falling apart at the seams, but he still loves his daughter, still feels some element of responsibility for who he once was, and what he has done.

The tension increases as the story progresses, and Cavanagh injects a number of perfectly-realised set-pieces (the night-time trip around the upper ledges of New York’s Chambers Street Court building is one that springs immediately to mind) designed to keep the reader perched firmly on the edge of their seat, and completely immersed in Eddie Flynn’s rapidly-disintegrating world. Despite Eddie’s sense of humour, which lifts the tone of many of the novel’s darker scenes, there is something ominous about the events and, while the first-person narrative contains a clue concerning Eddie’s survival beyond the end of The Defence, nothing else comes with a cast-iron guarantee, and the very real threat that hangs over Eddie’s daughter is one that remains with the reader throughout. It’s a masterful play, a clever piece of plotting that overshadows even the bomb strapped to Eddie’s back. That said, Eddie isn’t in for an easy ride, and the author takes some delight in putting his character through the mill during the course of the story.

Despite all this, there is still the “legal” part to the “legal-thriller” combo that the author uses to describe the novel, and Cavanagh uses every trick up his sleeve to ensure that the courtroom scenes are as attention-grabbing and engrossing as those that take place outside those formal and refined environs. Eddie’s sharp mind and quick wit leave the reader wishing for a glimpse of the man at the height of his legal career, and hoping for a more permanent return to the courtroom as the series (for series it is) continues. It’s a rare talent that can make the staid and solemn courtroom environment as entertaining and engrossing as the against-the-clock all-out action that makes up much of the rest of the novel.

The Defence heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice in Irish crime fiction, a voice that is as authentically American as the character at the centre of this excellent debut novel. A gripping read from first page to last, it is a new breed of thriller that nevertheless pays its dues to those who have come before: Jack Reacher, John McClane and, maybe, Perry Mason. Cavanagh’s is a name you should expect to hear a lot of in the coming years, and Eddie Flynn is destined to become as instantly recognisable as his forebears. In a word: unmissable.

February 15, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Irish, Thriller | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Interview with KARIM MISKÉ

karim-miske Name: KARIM MISKÉ

Author of: ARAB JAZZ (2015)

On the web: karimmiske.com

On Twitter: @KarimMiske

Karim Miské is a documentary-maker, restaurateur and television script-writer who lives and works in Paris. Arab Jazz is his first novel.

Thank you, Karim, for taking the time to chat with us.

The title of your novel is a riff on James Ellroy’s White Jazz. Are you a fan of Ellroy’s work and, if so, to what extent has he influenced the direction of your own writing?

In my opinion, James Ellroy is one of the best writers of our time, in terms of stories, style, rhythm, characters. If you want to understand something of contemporary American history, the L.A. Quartet and Underworld U.S.A. are must-reads. Ellroy’s work has inspired me because, one way or another, it’s always about race and war. That’s what I wanted to talk about too. For a long time, I didn’t really know why I was so keen to name my book Arab Jazz. Then one day I thought: “Well, Ellroy is an White American who wrote a brilliant novel named White Jazz. I’m a French Arab who wrote a hopefully brilliant novel named Arab Jazz.” And the idea made me laugh.

The English publication of Arab Jazz is very timely, following the tragic events that overtook Paris early in January. In the novel, you examine the religious tensions and present a background, of sorts, as to what could have led to those events. When you were writing the novel, was there ever a feeling that you might be hitting a little bit close to home or was there a sense of inevitability that the melting pot might produce something?

Actually the melting pot had already produced many things when I was writing Arab Jazz. In terms of terrorism, we had Khaled Kelkal in the nineties, an Algerian-born kid raised in France, who had conducted several terrorist attacks before being killed. And after him, there was the group of the Buttes-Chaumont, in the 19th arrondissement, the very territory of Arab Jazz. Some youngsters attracted by a self-proclaimed Imam were sent to Iraq. Most of them died there in suicide attacks or in the battle of Fallujah. I had been reading about the trial of the survivors of this jihadi group in 2008, while writing Arab Jazz, and the self-proclaimed imam of that group inspired one of the characters of the book. It was this imam who recruited one of the Kouachi brothers. When the Charlie Hebdo attack happened, I was, like everybody, horrified by the murders but also really disturbed by the way reality had re-entered my novel.

The pair of detectives at the centre of the novel – Rachel Kupferstein, an Ashkenazi Jew, and Jean Hamelot, a Breton from a communist family – are, to say the least, somewhat unconventional. Can you talk a bit about the origins of the characters, of the partnership, and of the challenges you faced when writing these two very different (from each other and from any of their contemporaries) individuals?

Rachel and Jean really popped up in front of my surprised eyes a few moments after Ahmed did, at the very beginning at the writing process. Suddenly they were there, teasing each other in front of a dead body, like typical cops. But the dialogue was not that classical. Jean was quoting Goebbels’ famous sentence: “The bigger the lie, the more it’ll be believed, and Rachel answered him in a way that implied she was Jewish, but a Jew who did not care that much about identity. At that moment, I knew them, I knew they were unconventional cops. I knew that Jean was attracted to his colleague but that nothing more than a kiss could happen between them. The challenge was to listen carefully to their voice, and follow them.

And can we expect to see more of Kupferstein and Hamelot in the future?

Arab Jazz is going to be a trilogy, so, yes, we’ll see more of them. And of Ahmed too. Some of the bad guys will also be there, so that we can have a really nice murder party with lots of Godzwill.

One of the central “characters” in the novel is the unique and captivating nineteenth arrondissement of Paris itself. How did you go about setting the scene and capturing the atmosphere to give the reader the sense of place required to understand the complex relationships between the different communities who share this small piece of the city?

I was living in the 19th when I began writing Arab Jazz. In a way, I just had to walk the streets, look at the people and let my imagination do the rest. One day, I was having a hair cut at a Moroccan Jewish hairdresser close to my place. While waiting for my turn, I heard him speak Arabic with the Moroccan Muslim mother of the kid whose hair he was cutting. The image and the words remained there, in my head. A few days later, I created the character of Sam, the dangerous hairdresser. Without knowing it, the real hairdresser had given birth to his literary double. He was an observant Jew, at the same time culturally Arab and politically anti-Arab. He embodied the contradictions of the nineteenth where Arabs and Jews are caught in a love-hate relationship. Upon these contradictions, I built my story.

What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?

Balzac, Brett Easton-Ellis, Marcel Proust, Marguerite Yourcenar, Hanif Kureishi, Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes and Horace McCoy, Jean-Patrick Manchette (the guy who re-invented French noir in the seventies). George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, Frantz Fanon, Marguerite Duras. So many others…

And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?

Black Skin, White Masks (Fanon), 1984 (Orwell), A Harlot High and Low (Balzac), The Abyss (Yourcenar)

What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Karim Miské look like?

When I’m in Paris, I cannot come to understand what happens during the day: I spend hours in front of my computer without managing to write a single word. Then, late at night, when everybody sleeps, sometimes, I finally end up writing a few paragraphs. After a few weeks like this, I freak out and decide to bury myself somewhere in the countryside. There, I write.

And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?

I don’t really see fiction-writing as a career because most writers can’t make a living out of it. Hence my first advice: don’t leave your job if you have one. Then, read a lot, write a lot. When you think you’ve got something worth showing, find a good reader, someone you trust i.e. not your mother or your lover. Ask your reader to give you deadlines and stick to it until you have written a first version. Then re-write it from the beginning, then look for an agent and/or a publisher.

What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?

I am reading lots of crime and scifi novels, looking for new ideas for a TV channel. The last book I read for pleasure is Savages by Don Winslow and I really enjoyed it!

If Arab Jazz should ever make the jump from page to screen, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?

As I am primarily a film maker, I’d love to direct it myself, but if a director I admire wants to do it, I can reconsider my position. In terms of casts, I actually have no idea for the moment, but once it’s getting serious, I’ll be watching tons of films to find the perfect actors.

And finally, on a lighter note…

If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?

Let’s begin with the beverage. Sorry for the noir cliché, but it’s going to be a bottle of Jack Daniels, because it’s nice, from time to time, to empty one with friends, talking about live, death, love and stuff. I’d like to share it with James Baldwin. We’d talk about literature, race and gender until the bottle is emptied and the dawn is rising.

Thank you once again, Karim, for taking time out to share your thoughts.

Karim will be in the UK to celebrate the launch of Arab Jazz. If you’re close to any of the events below, I’d recommend trying to catch him.

7pm, 9 February 2015 Karim Miské will be talking to Tariq Ali at Blackwell’s Oxford – tickets £3 from Blackwell’s, Broad Street, Oxford or 01865 333623/http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/stores/oxford-bookshop/2015/01/15/tariq-ali-launches-karim-miskes-debut-novel-arab-jazz/

7pm, 10 February 2015 ‘Spectrum of Radicalism – Fact and Fiction’ Karim Miské, Suzanne Moore, Kenan Malik and Ben Faccini will be discussing multiculturalism and fundamentalism at the French Institute on 10 February at 7pm. Tickets £8 http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/events-calendar/whats-on/talks/writing-the-story-of-urban-multiculturalism-arab-jazz-by-karim-miske/

7pm, 11 February 2015 Elif Shafak in conversation with Karim  Miské and Sarah Lotz, at Waterstones Piccadilly talking about ‘Colliding Faiths – religious fundamentalism in global fiction’. Tickets free, but email piccadilly@waterstones.com

February 9, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Interview, Noir | , , , , , | 1 Comment

ARAB JAZZ by Karim Miské

untitled ARAB JAZZ

Karim Miské (karimmiske.com)

Translated by Sam Gordon (www.sglanguages.com)

MacLehose Press (maclehosepress.com)

£16.99

And so it is in the Valetta of Paris, 75019, that he feels the first drop on his upturned face, his half-closed eyes gazing up at the sky. The second comes crashing down onto the gleaming sleeve of his djellaba, a present from his cousin Mohamed. Ahmed looks down and watches the scarlet stain spread across the white cotton. It’s not rain. A third tear strikes him on the end of his nose. He tastes it. It’s blood. His eyes slowly move upwards, as if they know the sight that awaits them. A motionless foot is handing two metres above him.

So it is that Ahmed Taroudant discovers that his upstairs neighbour has been murdered. As the only person with a spare key to Laura’s apartment – she was an air stewardess, and he watered her orchids when she was away from home – Ahmed is the obvious suspect. But this is the 19th arrondissement of Paris, a veritable melting pot where political and religious tensions run high, and Detectives Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot believe him to be innocent. As their investigation progresses, they discover that there is more to this violent crime than initially meets the eye, and that one or more religious factions might be involved in both the murder, and the appearance of a new drug on the streets of Paris.

Documentary-maker Karim Miské’s debut novel is part crime fiction, part sociological examination of the consequences of people of various races and faiths living in such close proximity. The murder of a young air stewardess allows Miské to construct a complex – and extremely clever – narrative that shows the divisions within this small neighbourhood, as well as on a global scale. These divisions are reflected, too, in the novel’s protagonists: Rachel Kupferstein, Ashkenazi Jew, and Jean Hamelot, Breton Communist who likes to quote Goebbels. Running his own investigation is Ahmed Taroudant, the dead girl’s downstairs neighbour, and a man for whom she had strong – if not necessarily reciprocated – feelings.

This trio of characters are a fascinating bunch, each in their own unique way, and Miské takes time to examine the relationships between the three, complex and often unexpected. Surprisingly, Ahmed plays a central role in the investigation, drawing on his many years of reading “stacks of English-language pulp thrillers: Connelly, Cornwell, Coben”, paperbacks of which line his apartment so that the usable space narrows with each passing month. The book’s title is a riff on James Ellroy’s White Jazz, one of the early novels of Ahmed and Rachel’s favourite author. Ahmed’s position – his residency in the area , and the fact that many of the area’s other residents consider him to be quite slow – provides him with a unique opportunity to ask questions where the police may not necessarily have much luck.

The list of suspects encompasses a who’s who of religious denominations: the members of the edgy rap group who no longer associate with each other: Salafists on one side, a Hasidic Jew on the other; the Jewish barber who plays both sides of the fence, as comfortable with the Islamists as he is with his own people; the local Imam who is hiding something; and the Jehovah’s Witnesses recently arrived from America hoping to open a route for their new drug, Godzwill. The mix leads to a lot of tension, and Miské captures it wonderfully on the page, imbuing in the reader a sense of dread as to how easily this tinderbox might ignite.

As well as the individuals, the author captures the essence of the 19th arrondissement, and of this small neighbourhood. A timely read, following the tragic events in Paris early in the year, the reader comes away with some understanding of just how finely balanced the different factions are, as they share this small area of Paris. All this with a distinctly noirish feel, a voice that puts Arab Jazz firmly in the crime fiction genre: the wheelings and dealings of the various characters, like the barber who feels like he has just stepped out of a Middle Eastern version ofThe Godfather or The Sopranos, and, most importantly, the violent death of the young woman that sets the scene as the novel opens. The mystery unfolds slowly as the novel progresses, told from multiple viewpoints, so that the reader must piece the different components together to get an understanding of what is going on. The “action” (and I use the word loosely) moves from Paris to New York and back, and the dead girl becomes the thread that ties everything together. As we start to understand the nature of what is going on, it becomes apparent that Karim Miské is a masterful plotter, and a firm believer in the concept of Chekhov’s gun. There are twists and turns here that ensure that no character is left untouched, no innocents in the 19th arrondissement, with the possible exception of Laura and Ahmed.

Arab Jazz, I have on good authority, is the first novel in a proposed trilogy. Based on the strength of this stunning debut novel, consider me signed up for the rest of the journey. Beautifully written – and translated, for that matter, by Sam Gordon – this is a wonderfully-plotted novel by a man who obviously has deep respect – if not love – for the genre, and for the authors and filmmakers who have practiced it before him. An exceptional debut from an exceptional talent, watch out for Karim Miské: his is a name you will be hearing a lot in the future.

February 9, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Noir | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GOLDEN SON by Pierce Brown

GOLDEN SON - Pierce Brown GOLDEN SON

Pierce Brown (pierce-brown.com)

Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk)

£16.99

Two years after his victory at the Institute, Darrow au Andromedus, the Red who now lives the life of a Gold, is on the cusp of repeating the trick at the Academy, and gaining command of a fleet of Gold vessels. It is a surprise to everyone, then, when he is defeated in the final battle, and a bigger surprise to Darrow to learn that his sponsor and protector will be cutting him free following his failure to gain control of the fleet. In a race against time, Darrow must find a way to remain under the protection of House Augustus in order to stay alive long enough to progress his true mission: the downfall of the Gold’s Society from the inside. As civil war looms, Darrow will find his loyalties tested, and his own sense of identity increasingly blurred.

Returning to the world and characters he created in Red Rising, Pierce Brown takes us once again into the head of Darrow, the Red miner who has turned Gold in order to help free his people. Within a handful of pages, the reader will feel comfortable with this familiar world, with the idiosyncrasies of the language, and with the relationships between the characters. Of course, it is imperative to read Red Rising first, or very little will make sense. What Brown began sketching out in that first novel on a small scale, we now see on a much larger canvas, as the author expands the scope of the story out into the solar system, much of which has been colonised by the Golds. From the old ways that we grew used to on Mars – the ancient Roman setting an effect broken only by the occasional glimpse of technology – we move into epic space opera, fleets of gleaming spaceships, giant behemoths that make Battlestar Galactica look like a lifeboat, and the threat of looming war is apparent from the outset.

Much has changed in the intervening two years, and Darrow finds himself the centre of an odd circle of friends. Relations with Mustang, the girl to whom he grew close during their time in the Institute, and the daughter of his patron, are strained following his decision to enter the Academy. This is the first sign we, the reader, see that the transition from Red to Gold may have affected more than just Darrow’s body: there is a hunger for power (admittedly, we are fairly certain that it is all for the greater good, but there is still plenty of room for doubt), something that we might associate more with the Golds than with the lowReds from whence Darrow came. This is a theme that recurs throughout the novel, and Darrow frequently questions his own motives, seeing in himself a man he has no desire to be, a man his wife would not – could not – ever have loved.

As the story progresses, Brown begins to drip-feed us answers to some of the questions that remained unanswered at the end of the first book: who are the Sons of Ares, for example, and what, exactly is their game plan? As friendships shrivel and die, Darrow quickly comes to understand that he has some very dangerous enemies who know a little bit too much about his origins. It becomes difficult to know who can be trusted, who is waiting to plunge the knife once his back is turned, and the reader feels as helpless as Darrow since we know only what he knows. In a shocking revelation as the story heads towards a stormy and cliff-hanging climax, Brown pulls the carpet from under our feet and completely changes the nature of the game; everything we thought we understood about what Darrow is doing, what his mission is all about, is called into question in a single moment of magic.

All of the elements that made Red Rising such a special book are present and accounted for in this second outing, but the increase in scope allows Brown to play around a bit more with the ideas and concepts that make up this world he has created. Edge of the seat thrills coupled with scenes that take place on a cinematic scale make this an entirely engrossing read. Darrow, although changed from our first encounter with him, is still as engaging as ever, and it is his journey that we keep coming back for. In the tradition of the finest “middle volumes” of classic trilogies, Golden Son builds on the world created in the first volume, makes us rethink what we thought we knew, and finishes on a bang that will ensure we’re all waiting impatiently for the trilogy’s final instalment.

A stunning space opera of epic proportions, Golden Son is gripping and intense at times, tender and funny at others. It takes the story begun in Red Rising in unexpected directions and manages to be that most rare of beasts: the sequel that surpasses the original. If you enjoyed Red Rising, Golden Son will knock your socks off. If you’ve yet to experience Pierce Brown’s multi-coloured world, you will definitely want to be caught up before the third volume drops next year. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

January 21, 2015 Posted by | Action-Adventure, Science Fiction, War | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GUEST POST: Researching The Widow’s Confession by SOPHIA TOBIN

tobin_sophia_13017_2_300 Name: SOPHIA TOBIN

Author of: THE SILVERSMITH’S WIFE (2014)
                 THE WIDOW’S CONFESSION (2015)

On the web: sophiatobin.wordpress.com

On Twitter: @SophiaTobin1

From day trips to directories: researching The Widow’s Confession

The Widow’s Confession is set during a summer season at a Victorian seaside resort. Researching the life of the Victorian tourist with its excursions, shell-collecting, sea-bathing and fireworks was a necessary pleasure, and a provider of many dramatic possibilities.

widow%27s confession blog tour graphics (2)Having pieced together various visual sources, my documentary research began with reading the newspapers for the period, searching for mentions of Broadstairs. I had prior knowledge of the town – I was brought up there – but the papers gave me the contemporary flavour I needed, historical texture and more information on its maritime culture. Through reading reports of shipwrecks I found descriptions of the sound of the lightships at the Goodwin Sands firing their guns to warn of a wreck, which became a defining motif in the book. Through the newspapers I also learned of events which served to drive some of the action, such as the Ramsgate Regatta, which became a pivotal scene. And when I read, in the London Standard, that Broadstairs was sought out by people who wanted privacy, in a moment I could hear my main character, Delphine, telling me it was ‘the perfect place to hide’.

Contemporary directories and guidebooks were hugely valuable to me, such as W. Kidd’s Picturesque companion to the Isle of Thanet, published in 1840, which described the most desirable shells collected by visitors – including the ‘beauty shell’ which found its way into the plot. As you might expect, the sources sometimes disagree (by 1851, Dickens was complaining that Broadstairs was too loud and busy; a guidebook printed that year described it as ‘very genteel and very dull’) but from such disagreements I could make my own decisions about how I saw the town, piecing together the sources and extracting a sense of atmosphere from them.

Swathes of research never made their way into the book, apart from brief mentions. When Theo describes a book he has been reading on archaeological finds at Reculver, justifying a visit, he is referring to a real book, written by Charles Roach Smith and published in 1850, which I pored over in the stacks of the London Library for an entire evening.

I don’t think you can beat an excursion for research purposes. I can still feel the icy wind whipping at my coat as I looked at the ruins of Reculver. Spending a summer weekend at Broadstairs, I watched the sky transformed by a summer storm, and lightning over the sea. A day later, a thick sea-mist fell, making everything ghostly, so that I could almost hear the sound of horses’ hooves and the creak of the lantern raised at the headland to signal to the boats. The town had given me, in days, a light-show of what I needed for the book. I have to admit, the best part of the research was watching lightning shiver over the summer sky.

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Guest Post, Historical Fiction | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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