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Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews


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INFLUENCES: Literary Influences by OLIVER LANGMEAD & Competition


Author of: DARK STAR (2015)

Literary Influences, Contemporary & Classic


Dark Star has a lot of influences, because it’s three things in one. It’s science fiction, it’s a detective story of the noir and hard-boiled brand, and it’s an epic in the classical sense.

Dark Star blog tour skyscraperThe best place to start is at the beginning, because it’s possible to see the exact moment when a fairly predictable trend in reading became something else. I started out with Brian Jacques and Roald Dahl from the age of about six, and by the time I was half way through my teens, I had devoured everything written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, as well as a few other authors writing along the same lines. Then, at the age of sixteen, I was made to read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, and everything changed.

It’s difficult to describe exactly what that book did for me. It was as if I had certain expectations about what books were, what books could be, and I could see the limits of that. Then experiencing a book like All the Pretty Horses opened my mind to a whole world of literary writing that I had not really considered before.

This is where it’s possible to start to see where Dark Star came from. Over the past few years, I’ve been reading pretty much anything and everything to broaden my sense of what a book can be. From Lovecraft’s grim and verbose short stories, to Philip Roth’s beautiful but horrible Sabbath’s Theatre (the best book I’ve never finished) to Bret Easton Ellis, testing the idea of vacancy in the lines he writes, and beyond. I’ve loved the architecture behind Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books, and been in awe of James Joyce’s almost impenetrable writing in Ulysses, and spent even more time investigating what makes gothic classics, Frankenstein and Dracula, tick.

From science fiction, I cite China Mieville and Michel Faber as major influences. Specifically, Mieville’s The City & The City, which had a sense of wonder behind each discovery that I desperately wanted to kindle for myself, and Faber’s Under The Skin, which evoked such a sense of character in both its place and in its moods, that I hoped to see something similar in my own work. For Dark Star, I wanted the reader to feel a sense of discovery in a world that is disarmingly familiar. I wanted to evoke that 1920s noir kind of atmosphere, then give the reader glimpses of the science fiction beyond.

I chose a few books from the classic detective genre to look at in order to understand it better, and Raymond Chandler is the author I have to cite above all others. The Big Sleep was crafted so well to be what it was, and it is possible to see why it has had such a big influence on authors other than myself. This is one of the main sources from which those most treasured clichés and tropes come, which I hope I have treated well in my own book. Making a world that felt familiar, just like Chandler did, was important to me. Closer to the atmosphere that Dark Star would have, however, has to be Frank Miller’s Sin City. Sin City had the voice that I wanted to use; that gritty internal monologue, bitter and beaten by its surroundings.

Dark Star is a love story for three genres, however, and the third might surprise you. I hope that you’ve heard of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. I hope that you’ve heard of The Divine Comedy, and the Aeneid, and Paradise Lost. Because these are all epics, written in an ancient style, which I completely fell for and decided to try and emulate. I’m hoping that you’re wondering whether writing a science fiction noir in verse would work at all. Because I wondered that, as well. But… it does work. Some of those recognisable elements are there: the pentameter, the descent and the divine, and some of them are not, but Dark Star is undoubtedly written in the tradition of those ancient greats.

It all comes back to McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses, in the end. When I read it, I thought that it was completely marvellous that I had never read a book like it before: that someone had tried something so ambitious, and had been so successful with it. It’s something that I wanted to try for myself. And the result of that is Dark Star.


To celebrate the release of this excellent novel, Oliver’s publishers, Unsung Stories, are very kindly giving away a signed copy of Dark Star and a signed Dark Star poster to one lucky winner.

To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is send a single tweet answering the following question:

Which book changed your expectations of what books can be?

Make sure you include the hashtag #DarkStarGiveaway as well as including @MattGCraig @UnsungTweets to ensure your entry is included.

The competition will close at midnight, Monday 30th March 2015 and the winner will be notified shortly thereafter.

Book  & Publisher Information

Dark Star product page (Unsung Stories)

Amazon UK Dark Star product page

Amazon US Dark Star product page

Unsung Stories send excellent fortnightly short stories for free, direct to your email inbox. Sign up here to ensure you don’t miss a single one.


Christopher Fowler Arrivals Specsavers Crime ITKyI_eqRzsl Name: CHRISTOPHER FOWLER

Author of: BRYANT & MAY Series (2004 – 2015)
                 HELL TRAIN (2012)
                 ROOFWORLD (1988)

On the web:

On Twitter: @Peculiar

Today marks the UK hardback publication of the twelfth Bryant & May mystery, The Burning Man. To celebrate the book’s release, I’m very pleased and excited to welcome its author, Christopher Fowler, to Reader Dad, to talk about his writing space. So, without further ado…

Fellow writers are always horrified when they walk into my home. The horror intensifies when they see my writing study. ‘But where is everything?’ they ask. ‘How on earth can you work like this? There’s nothing here!’

THE BURNING MAN - Christopher FowlerI grew up in a terraced Victorian house where space and light were both restricted. In summer you stayed cool inside, but in winter you lost the will to live. It was cluttered and chaotic with books, magazines and far too many ornamental objects. When I finally gave up my job for my career and switched to writing novels full-time, I knew I needed a better space in which to work. My partner and I found an apartment where the architects had spent four months measuring light levels before putting in the walls. Most of the outer walls are floor-to-ceiling glass. Living in a goldfish bowl takes some getting used to; there are many days when you have to wear sunglasses to the breakfast table. The unforgiving design ethic of stark white minimalism and glass is not conducive to the care and protection of beloved old books. Only one room could be shielded from the relentless glare of daylight, so that is where the library lives. We couldn’t leave books out in the light because even recent volumes have yellowed and turned brittle (whereas my rare paperback collections from the 1950s are fine).

Shelves were ordered, but only enough to keep the lines of the room. In my old house I had sat surrounded by wobbly stacks, shifting them from tables to eat, piling them beside my bed until I was in danger of being buried alive.

We decided to take all the books with us, but remove the duplicates. The dog-eared student texts, from Chaucer to Gunter Grasse, were all doubled, so they went. Out went spares of Shakespeare, Balzac, Hesse, 20th century poets, and reference books that were available online. Practical choices were made – we dumped the gardening books because we no longer had a garden. For a while the process remained polite, and even developed a peculiar kind of quid pro quo. ‘No,’ I insisted, ‘you keep your African authors, but I’ll hang onto my British theatre histories because I might need the research.’ Being an author, I could unashamedly pull rank.

There were still not enough shelves, even though they ran to the ceiling. I hung on to some very strange book choices. The worthy volumes that we felt required to keep had been discarded in favour of guilty pleasures. The Pan Books Of Horror, Spider-Man and The Films of Norman Wisdom had inexplicably been deemed more valuable than Proust. Ultimately, the new truncated library that emerged was as idiosyncratic as the old one, and as enjoyable. I think libraries should breathe and fluctuate.

Wi-Fi meant no cables, and the printer could be tucked away – although it’s virtually redundant now. The study naturally became a paper-free zone as nearly all of my research documents, photos and letters are stored online. I’ve only kept a few book awards – the rest are stored in an electronic format. The study windows overlook St Paul’s, an inspirational sight for any London writer, and there are 360 degrees of blinds which can be lowered one at a time, according to the position of the sun.

One problem is that my past books have all been written on different systems, and there’s no single access source for the texts. At some point in the future I’ll have to transcribe them to Word – the earliest were typed on manual typewriters. Even my first Bryant & May mystery novels were written on now defunct systems, so I have to go back to the master copies for reference. I keep style guides and character reference notes online, but still revert to pen and paper occasionally to help me visualise a situation.

It’s a great way to work, calm, uncluttered and skybound.

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

Paul_Hardisty2 Name: PAUL E. HARDISTY


On the web:

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.

Abrupt Physics Blog Tour Banner


The-Relic-Guild-Edward-Cox Name: EDWARD COX

Author of: THE RELIC GUILD (2014)

On the web:

On Twitter: @EdwardCox10

The great question: why do I write? I’ve been asked this a number of times, and my answers have been varied. I’ve taken the pretentious route, proclaiming that no one chooses to be a writer, writing chooses you. I’ve tried to brush it off by saying that writing is the only thing I know how to do. The truth is, I definitely do know why I write, but it is difficult for me explain simply. It comes from an experience, a visceral reaction that I now call the Feeling.

So what’s a good example of what I’m talking about?

Take The Diamond Throne by David Eddings. I bought this book in the late 80’s. I read it in a single sitting in my bedroom. Outside, the sky was dark, full of black clouds, and rain was pelting my window. To the distant rumble of thunder, the flashes of lightning, I turned to chapter one and discovered a knight riding a horse through a storm. Accompanied by the sound of hooves on cobbles, the knight slowly made his way along the streets of the city from which he had been exiled, as the dark sky drenched him with rain. Call it art imitating life (or should that be the other way around?), but it felt as though the weather outside my bedroom window was the soundtrack for this story, and I was sold.

I’m sure that the coincidence in atmospherics is what hooked me initially, and it sharpened up my receptors for what came next. I remember needing to know why this knight was returning to the home that had exiled him. I had to discover what adventures lay ahead for him. I remember battle scenes that made my heart race, camaraderie that made me laugh aloud. There were scary moments that made me acutely aware of being home alone, and that the only light on in the house was the reading light in my bedroom. I welcomed the knight’s friends, despised his enemies, and I wished to be a member of his fellowship that was on a quest filled with such wonder and magic. I was hooked by The Diamond Throne because it had given me the Feeling.

The Feeling is investment, the moment a story grabs you by the collar and drags you into the fray . . . it’s being Luke’s co-pilot as he storms the Death Star; it’s taking Sansa’s hand and running away to safety; it’s telling Harry to be brave in his cupboard beneath the stairs; it’s standing alongside Druss on the battlements of Dros Delnoch; it’s begging the crew of the Nostromo to stay inside the ship. There is nothing on Earth like a good story, and I want someone, somewhere, to read my stories and experience the Feeling. That is why I write.

The Relic Guild by Edward Cox is published on the 18th of September by Gollancz in Trade Paperback, eBook and Audio Book. Be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour (see the banner to the right). 



Amy Bird Name: AMY BIRD

Author of: HIDE AND SEEK (2014)

On the web:

On Twitter: @London_writer

To celebrate the launch of her latest novel, Hide and Seek, I’m delighted to welcome Amy Bird to Reader Dad to talk about her influences. Amy’s publisher, Carina UK, are running a competition to win a trip to Paris, so be sure to check out the end of the post for details. And don’t forget to check in on the other stops of the blog tour all this coming week.

H&S blog tour2There are some writers who refuse to read any fiction, lest their style be influenced. I am not such a writer. I always have a book on the go and I read as widely as I can. I like to indulge in plots and words, characters and ideas – both to learn from other writers’ technical skill, but also for the sheer joy of reading. I trust my own style to remain strong, or even get stronger, in the process. For this post, I was asked to write about the influences for my third novel, psychological thriller Hide and Seek. I thought about letting you just have a list of a few books that influence me. But really, I think the question of influence is subtler and runs deeper than that. So I came up with six categories instead.

1. The contemporary psychological thrillerBefore I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl, The Dinner and even books like The Secret History are a master-class in plot twists, unusual structure, warped characters, and claustrophobic relationships. These are all key features of the modern psychological thriller. As a writer in the genre, I have to be aware of the expectations of readers, and what really works to turn a page. All four of these books kept me up until 1am. I hope Hide and Seek will have the same effect on you.

2. The classic work of suspense – In this category I would group Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene, and most Hitchcock films. Their hallmarks are setting up a sense of unease before we know what is wrong, and then with the subtlest of details here and there building and building to a danger we know is going to befall the main characters, but we don’t know when or how. In Hide and Seek, we know that something isn’t right in Will’s apparently perfect life. Little by little we understand what that is – and, more alarmingly, what he is going to do about it.

3. Moody, unusual books – I love books that have a dark weirdness to them, when you are plunged into another world that your senses struggle to comprehend. So here I’m thinking of Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway, Busy Monsters by William Giraldi and even Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. The way I deal with that in Hide and Seek is to use first person, so that you are immediately thrown into the mind of a stranger and have to orientate yourself. As you get to know the characters, they become less strange. Just as you become comfortable with them, their thoughts start to shock and disturb you, as the extent of their obsessions become clear.

4. Detective and crime fiction – I spent a thrilling three months of my Creative Writing MA studying detective and crime fiction. This ranged from Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler (a personal favourite) to quirkier books such as In the Cut by Susannah Moore and The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer. All those books were linked by a quest for truth and a need to uncover secrets that someone else is determined should remain hidden. Hide and Seek isn’t a detective novel in the ‘pure’ sense, but there is the same obsessional search for an answer and the willingness to risk everything in pursuit of the truth.

5. Music – at the heart of Hide and Seek, there is a piano concerto that holds some of the secrets Will is searching for, and which fuels his obsession with his past. I’ve structured the novel as a concerto – it falls into the three parts of exposition, development and recapitulation, plus everything from the motifs to the voices feed back into that structure. I therefore listened to a lot of piano concertos while I was writing Hide and Seek, to get the mood and the pace of my fictitious concerto and the book just right. Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Alkan and Beethoven emerged as the clear favourites. Mostly in a minor key, of course.

6. Everything else – I am always reading with my writer’s hat on. So even if I am enjoying the novel for its plot/ pace/ language/ bizarre characters, I am absorbing interesting sentence structures or devices – or reminding myself never to write like that writer does. At the moment, I’m reading three books: a contemporary crime thriller, a historical comedy-drama, and a real-life Second World War spy story. There’s a brilliant quote by Haruki Murakami: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” I hope that the result for readers of Hide and Seek is a novel that goes beyond the confines of its genre, and provides an original reading experience. But you will have to judge that for yourself.

Amy Bird is the author of the thrillers Three Steps Behind You and Yours Is Mine, and now Hide and Seek.

Having moved all over the UK as a child, she now lives in North London with her husband, dividing her time between working part-time as a lawyer and writing.


DOCTOR WHO at 50: An Excerpt from BEHIND THE SOFA


Edited by Steve Berry

Gollancz (


All author royalties are donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Saturday 23rd November 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the world’s longest-running science fiction drama, Doctor Who. As a long-time fan, I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion in some way and, thanks to those wonderful people at Gollancz and Orion, I’m able to do just that, by sharing one of the many celebrity memories that can be found in Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who, which is available now.


I guess the interesting thing about my favourite Doctor Who memory is that it might not be real.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, mom would cut my hair herself to save money: just pop a bowl on, trim the edge with scissors. I like to think I was very much 1976’s Justin Bieber (or possibly the fat one from the Double Deckers). Like all socially awkward males of the future I was a Doctor Who fan, but what I saw through my child’s eyes was 10 times as amazing as what was actually on the screen. Imagination gave it leverage.

This is probably heresy but I don’t revisit classic Who because I know reality can never live up to my memories. My most vivid memory was of monsters that were essentially cloaked figures without any heads. I don’t remember what they were called but I was terrified.

I was watching this episode perched on a high stool in the front room as mom cut my hair. I’ve always been a terrible fidget, much to her annoyance. She’d tried everything to get me to sit still, with no success. Then, that day, she hit on the one thing that worked. She pointed at the screen and said “You know how they lost their heads, don’t you? Fidgeting whilst having their hair cut,” while ominously making snipping motions with the scissors.

That was it. I didn’t want to become a monster. I never again moved during a haircut. I still don’t. Not that my mom still cuts my hair. I’m tempted at this point to pick up the phone, call my friend, comic Toby Hadoke, and ask what these monsters were. In fact, I think of asking whenever I see him but I never have, as I suspect the real truth is much more mundane than what I remember and will only disappoint.

There may well never have been any cloaked headless figures, but there were for me.

Incidentally, I don’t think the terrors I remember were the same as the Headless Monks in A Good Man Goes to War but I guess it’s possible. These more recent creations were far less scary. Partly because, at the time of watching, I was nearly 40, and partly because I recognised the Fat Gay Married Anglican Marine as being Charlie Baker (another comic), who I worked with the week before in Jongleurs Portsmouth.

That sort of stuff never happens when you’re five.


Gary Delaney is a comedian. “Wanted to invent a Doctor Who monster that could disguise itself as a sofa


Steve Berry decided to do something a little bit different to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK. A life-long DOCTOR WHO fan, he began to interview celebrities, writers, actors and people who had worked on DOCTOR WHO, asking for their earliest memories of the show that sent us cowering behind the sofa. Now he presents the fruits of his four years of labour – a beautiful, touching book containing short articles and touching memories of one of the most successful TV shows ever. 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of DOCTOR WHO – this is the perfect way to enjoy those 50 years!

This revised and expanded edition includes over 30 new entries from people such as Sophia Myles, Ben Aaronovitch, John Leeson and many more

Contributors include comedians Al Murray, Stephen Merchant, and Bill Oddie; actors Lynda Bellingham, Nicholas Parsons, and Rhys Thomas; writers Neil Gaiman, Jenny Colgan, Jonathan Ross and Charlie Brooker and politicians Louise Mensch and Tom Harris. In addition, there is input from a number of the writers, actors and production staff who were involved in creating DOCTOR WHO stories new and old.

Doctor Who Logo


Myke Cole Name: MYKE COLE

Author of: CONTROL POINT (SHADOW OPS 1) (2012)

On the web:

On Twitter: @MykeCole

Myke Cole Blog Tour

I’m very pleased to introduce our first guest post here at Reader Dad. Myke Cole, author of Control Point, the first book in the Shadow Ops series, has very kindly written an essay about the origins of the Shadow Ops world. So, without further ado, I’ll let him get on with it.

SHADOW OPS is definitely a military story. But I’ve also written satire. I’ve written high fantasy, I’ve written horror, I’ve written straight science fiction. Heck, I even wrote a zombie love story. But when people talk about my fiction, it’s always Myke Cole the MILITARY writer. People seem to think I’m a one-trick-pony.

They’re wrong.

I’m a two-trick-pony.

Those two tricks form the basis of the SHADOW OPS series and, when you think about it, makes my writing it almost inevitable. The tricks are: 1.) A deep and abiding love of all things military. 2.) A traditional nerd upbringing (raised on Dungeons & Dragons, comic books and fantasy novels).

It began with a suit of armor.

My mother took me to the Metropolitan Museum when I was a kid, and from the first sight of that armor, I knew that I wanted to be a knight when I grew up (and not the Judy Dench/Paul McCartney kind. The Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar kind).

I was absolutely undeterred by her explanation that knighthood was an occupation in . . . decline . . . in the 21st century. I knew they were warriors, and so I embraced every text I could find on the fighting man, and trained myself in the arena of imagination provided by role-playing games. Always the Paladin or Fighter, I waded into the thick of things, sword in hand, usually getting killed in the first round of combat. I devoured every story I could find about knights, from the classic legends of Sir Thomas Mallory to the modern reimaginings of Terry Brooks.

You’d think that as I grew up I’d realize mom was right.

But she wasn’t.

Real fighting knighthood never truly died. It evolved into a nearly unrecognizable shape as the heart of the modern military officer corps. I still clung to my fantasy imaginings of knights, from Aragorn to Galahad to Ned Stark, but now they were informed by an older man’s familiarity with the realities of evolved technology, military bureaucracy and the blurring (at least on the surface) of class distinctions we have in the modern world.

Years later, when I first girded on my officer’s saber, the little boy in me sang. I was as much of a knight as I could ever be, true to both the modern evolution of the profession and the fantasy underpinnings that wouldn’t let me stop dreaming about it. That whole saluting thing? We’re miming raising a medieval helmet-visor, folks.

Writing SHADOW OPS felt the same way. It was . . . right, somehow. A story about military sorcerers? That’s as me as it gets. It was like coming home.

I like to think of myself as a complex guy, especially in my writing. But “military” writer? Sure. I’ll take it.

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