My Little Eye – Stephanie Marland

My Little Eye is a very unique take on the classic murder mystery. A story told technically from two different points of view but with the added bonus of an online true crime group adding their perspective.

It is the story told by Dominic the Detective working for the police department, and Clementine, the PHD student who joins an amateur online detective group and attempts to solve a series of murders carried out by ‘The Lover’, a sadistic serial killer who poses his victims after he murders them.

Blurb

A rocket-paced, dark thriller for fans of Mark Billingham, Sharon Bolton and Luther. Can a group of true crime addicts take on the police to catch a serial killer?

Kiss the Girls – A young woman is found dead in her bedroom surrounded by rose petals- the latest victim of ‘The Lover’. Struggling under the weight of an internal investigation, DI Dominic Bell is no close to discovering the identity of the killer and time is running out.

And make them die – As the murders escalate, Clementine Starke joins an online true crime group determined to take justice in their own hands – to catch the killer before the police. hiding a dark secret, she takes greater risks to find new evidence and infiltrate the group.

As Starke and Bell get closer to cracking the case, neither of them realise they are being watched. the killer is close to them than they think, and he has his next victim – Clementine – firmly in his sights.

Thoughts about the blurb

Personally, I think that this blurb gives too much away. In my opinion, and it is just an opinion, a blurb should give you a set up for the story and perhaps a few tantalising nuggets of information to encourage you to read past the first chapter, which in most books would be introducing characters and setting the scene.

Often, if I am struggling to get into a book after the first chapter, I’ll skip a few pages to read on, if I then feel I’ve missed anything, I’ll double back to catch up.

NONE of this was necessary for My Little Eye.

The book itself

The book begins with a prologue. Written in the voice of one of ‘The Lovers’ victims, this is essentially a prologue to the kill. It sets the tension level really well and leaves you wanting much much more.

Monday – the first chapter is Clementine and it begins as so:

“They say I was dead for three thousand and six seconds. They say that when I woke up I was different, but I don’t know if that’s true.”

Already I was hooked.

Chapter 1 is just over a page long, chapter two is just over two pages long. We continue in this pattern until the introduction of the online crime group and divert back to this pattern when small titbits of information need to be added to the story.

One thing that Stephanie Marland is very good at in her books, is pacing. She knows just when to speed things up with a short chapter to introduce more evidence and just when to include more characters with more viewpoints and thought-provoking clues.

My Little Eye is a great book. It follows a very familiar path of serial killers and police investigations, but where it differs from your average crime thriller or police procedural is with the introduction of this online true crime group and their lines of investigation. Often ahead of the police, they pool their expertise, knowledge and on some occasions the fact that they are not tied by rules and procedures, to solve the case.

Do they solve the case before the police? That would be telling.

Stephanie Marland

I have been a fan of Stephanie Marland for a few years now. All be it, under her pseudonym of Stephanie Broadribb, or more accurately as her blogging name ‘Crime Thriller Girl’.

Taken from the introduction on her website:

Crime Thriller Girl (aka Steph Broadribb aka Stephanie Marland) leads a double life …

I started out as a corporate suit by day and a crime fiction blogger – Crime Thriller Girl (hence the name of my blog) by night. Now I’m a thriller writer, writing as Steph Broadribb and Stephanie Marland. I’m an avid reader of all things crime thriller and I love to connect with people who share the same passion for books.

I first discovered her whilst looking for bloggers who wrote about one of my favourite areas, crime fiction. She is one of the best. But not only does she write about crime and is friends with some of the biggest crime writers in the industry, she also writes crime. When I discovered that she wrote as Stephanie Broadribb, I downloaded Deep Down Dead and began to read.

Blurb for Deep Down Dead

“Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong. The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows …”

The Lori Anderson series is set in Florida and at first, I found it hard to reconcile a UK crime writer who sets their work in the USA. Why I found this so hard, I’m not really sure, I love Lee Child’s work and all of his work is set in the USA, in the US military in fact, and he was born in Coventry UK.

Once I got past the first few chapters though, I was hooked. The Lori Anderson series is fast-paced action from the get-go. Information is introduced into the story in much the same way that a grenade is introduced into a room.

This speed makes it ideal reading for commuting. When you get off that train, even if you have only travelled a mere couple of stations, you feel as though you have read one hell of a lot of the story.

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to attend an event at a local literary festival in which Stephanie Marland/Broadribb and her fellow author, Isabel Ashdown did a talk on ‘How to get published’. It was one of those talks which was designed to encourage you, the writer, to progress your work and your career in the right way, not just to dither around unsure where to go for help. What I took away , however, was just how much I wanted to read Stephanie’s new book ‘My Little Eye’.

Both authors read a passage from their newest books and I decided then and there to purchase both. Luckily there was a table manned by the local independent book shop, Barnards Books there selling copies and I was lucky enough to get them both signed.

I am actually quite ashamed that it has taken me this long to get around to reading and in fact finishing this book. The pace meant that I should have managed it within a week of the talk. Once I did pick it up and begin to read properly, it really did only take me a week.

It is a great story, gruesome in parts, but not unnecessarily so. I love the characters, especially Clementine, who Stephanie herself admits to rewriting in full on the second draft. The use of the online crime group to add intrigue and another dimension which really adds depth to the story. The lead characters, as well as the supporting characters, are fully developed and most have their own back story which gives reason and justification for their actions.

**** Potential spoiler ahead ***

Continue reading My Little Eye – Stephanie Marland

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

I’ve been seeing this book around for a while now and decided it was time to read it. Having been super busy with work, I knew I’d end up buying it and not reading it for months. Black Friday came around and Audible had a sale on some of the year’s bestsellers, a mere £2.50 per audiobook! Sold!

I downloaded it and spent just over a week listening to it on my way to and from work. Best £2.50 I’ve spent in ages. I would most certainly recommend this.

WINNER OF THE BOOKS ARE MY BAG NOVEL AWARD 2018
SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2018
SHORTLISTED FOR THE SPECSAVERS NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS 2018

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleYou can buy a signed copy of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcasle by Stuart Turton at Forbidden Planet. 

The problem with an audiobook

Audiobooks can be difficult though, I have a real fondness for a good audiobook read by a good narrator. Unfortunately, the narrator can add or take away so much from the story that they can really make or break it.

Having listened to some audiobooks which I’ve given up on because of the narrator alone, I was pleased by the narrator on this one; Jot Davies has a versatile voice, smooth and with a lot of dexterity. Read in the first person the narrator is integral to the story working.

Since finishing the audiobook I have read some reviews; although overall they are good, there are a few people who do not like the narrator. This is a very personal thing I believe. I found Jot Davies to be a delightful narrator who added to the story for me. Sadly, not everyone felt the same way.

The Story

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a thought-provoking and intriguing story. It is one of the first truly existential pieces of literature that I’ve ‘read’, and enjoyed, in quite some time.

I can’t help but imagine what Stuart Turton’s office must have looked like whilst he was writing this book. The story is not limited to seven different timelines, there are also several other characters whose timelines are relevant and integral to the story, and both the ‘reader’ and Aiden’s ability to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder.

For me, I was totally enthralled by this story,  I would happily have read/listened to this story all in one day, I was excited to get to the next host to find out the other perspectives of the timeline, to see if I could solve the murder before Aiden did.

I failed!

Although there were some aspects of the mystery that I did solve, the main murderer was a total surprise. And my surprise was not limited just to the murder. This story contains many twists and turns relating to the identity of Aiden and his counterparts as well as the murder of Evelyn.

I found each of the characters to have depth and Stuart certainly explored many areas of the suspect’s lives, aspects which had a true impact on their place in this mystery.

I have seen this story compared to a cross between an Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap, all of which seem accurate to me. It is well written, contains twists and turns and I would certainly recommend this book in both audible and written form to anyone who likes a good mystery and a plot twist.

Setting

I do not know when or where this book is set.

It has been compared to the Great Gatsby and I agree. Blackheath is a stately home out in the countryside. There are no real indications of which time period this story is set though, the only technology which is mentioned is an ancient record player and a car which is a little temperamental. No other technology, but in a place like Blackheath, this doesn’t actually narrow it down at all. Often people aim to get away from themselves when they stay in a place like Blackheath. I’d narrow it down to somewhere between the 1920s and 1980s.

The characters all have very different accents, but as it is written and read in the first person and accents aren’t really relevant to the plot, there is no real indication as to the location of Blackheath, it could be the UK, it could be the USA, the only place I know it isn’t based in, is Paris, as that is the only place specifically mentioned in the book.

This lack of location actually only adds to the mystery which surrounds the story and the mystery of Blackheath.

Synopsis

“It is meant to be a celebration, but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. but Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to bread this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…”

Boy Under Water

Story

This book was described to me as “A beautiful story” and I have to say, the bookseller was correct, it is indeed beautiful.

Boy Under Water is described as “A HEARTBREAKING, HEART-WARMING story about FAMILY, FRIENDS and SECRETS, Boy Underwater will probably make you CRY – and will definitely make you LAUGH.” which is a pretty accurate description as it goes. Seeing the world through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy really does give the reader a different perspective unless of course, you are a nine-year-old boy, in which case I feel you will be able to relate.

This is a book about a nine-year-old boy, written in a style which would make it easy for a nine-year-old boy to understand, but in language that an adult will also appreciate. It reminds me of being read to as a child. As I read through this story, I find myself reading in the voice of a nine-year-old boy, I make up voices for each of the characters in fact. This is not something I do consciously but something which I become aware of as I read through.

Style

One of the things I love about this book is its ability to break the boundaries of a traditional book. There are whole pages which feature words, having fun. in fact, there is a whole chapter made up of one picture and 7 words. This is really the only giveaway, except for the size of the text, which tells you it is a book aimed at children.

I used to run the book section in an out of town W H Smith store and one tip my boss gave me was this; “If you can’t tell if it’s an adult or a kids book from the title, front cover or subject matter, then go by the size of the text”. This is not, of course, an exact science, but it is a good approximation, usually, one of the other aspects will give you a better idea but often it is a combination of several aspects.

My friend has an eight-year-old and I cannot wait for him to read this book, it is the kind of book which will be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

Illustrations

Boy Under Water is illustrated by Benji Davies, an illustrator who has worked on numerous children’s books over the past ten years. His additions to the book are great and really add to the atmosphere and the storyline. I’d love to tell you more, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. So instead, here is a picture from one of the other books Benji has written and illustrated…

Grandad's Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam Baron

Adam Baron is a successful adult novelist, he has six adult novels under his belt and teaches a successful MA in creative writing.

Adam Baron… has a light touch and brings humour to difficult subjects such as mental health. So, why not come in? The water’s lovely.

The Times – on Boy Underwater (edited quote to avoid spoilers)

I hadn’t even heard of Adam Baron before finding this book in my local Waterstones bookshop, but I am now most certainly going to be on the lookout for more of his work. His writing style is one which is inspiring, both pretty and ugly when the need arises and easy to read for both children and adults. This book is a children’s book and he most certainly does not talk down to them or shy away.

Characters

Cymberline Igloo

Yes, that is his name, something which is happy to point out and explain very early on in the book. Cymberline is the main character and the book is told from his point of view. He is competitive, friendly, nervous, thoughtful and good at sports, what more could you ask for from a nine-year-old hero. I found that I warmed to Cymberline very quickly, he is a loveable character and due to his age, you tend to overlook his flaws and his moments of nine-year-old annoyance, as you are seeing them from his point of view, you are seeing the other side to the tantrum.

Veronique Chang

Every school, every class has a girl like Veronique. A girl or boy who is years above the rest in educational development, someone who is so intelligent that they struggle to mix with their peers. Where it is possibly unlikely that a nine-year-old would understand stocks and shares to the level which Veronique does, she is portrayed very well by Baron. A girl whose intelligence is well beyond her years, but who has not learnt enough social graces to apply to adults who find her threatening.

Lance

Lance struggles with his name and his namesake’s reputation. A child of divorce, it is clear that this kid has learnt to bend the situation to his advantage, and fair play to him. I found that I felt sorry for Lance more than perhaps I should have.

Billy Lee

The initial villain of the piece, your classic bully. But even Billy Lee has depth. Seeing things from a nine-year-olds perspective can really help you to see how horrible children can be. As an adult, the introduction and growth of Billy Lee’s character reminds us all that there is always more going on than meets the eye and no one really knows what another person is going through.

Adults

I won’t focus too heavily on the adults here. They, of course, make up a large part of the cast of this book and they push the story on. Without the adults, there would be no story, but they are also the ones which cause all the problems in Cymbeline’s eyes. The semi-alcoholic aunt, one workaholic uncle, one flakey uncle, a mother who is keeping secrets and a dead father, not to mention the teachers and other parents, Cymberline really struggles to get himself heard.

Review

Having just finished this book today, I would totally recommend. It has twists and turns and gives a child’s perspective of some scenario’s which adults would try to hide from children, and as the story shows, children know more about what is going on that their parents suspect. Never underestimate a child when they get curious.

This is a well-written story from a point of view I’ve not very often read. It is a beautiful story and one which both children and adults will enjoy.

An evening with Mark Billingham & Martyn Waites

A mild Tuesday night in October and I join about 80 people streaming into the Compass Theatre to listen to Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites talk about their new books.

This talk was one of the author events from this year’s Hillingdon Culture Bites festival.
I was, of course, busy listening to these two talk, but I did manage to make a few notes. So below is a stripped down, paraphrased and heavily abridged version of my evening with Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites.

 

Martyn Waites discusses his new book

I’d describe it as Crime noir meets the wicker man. It is, like me,  based in Cornwall. It is broadly speaking, about a remote community dying as result of Brexit and what they, as a community, would be willing to do to save themselves. It is based on a true story and I was inspired by something I once said about my recent move.  “Living in Cornwall makes me feel like I’m in witness protection”
This book is the first of a new series.

Mark Billingham discusses his new book

Crime readers do not like it when they harm animals. This book has lots of harm to animals. No actual descriptions of violence, but it is based on the Croydon cat killer. I have had numerous conversations with the police force working on this case and it is absolute nonsense that it is foxes killing these cats.
One far-out theory that they had during the investigation was that the killings were being carried out by a crazed ornithologist.  It’s always the peculiar little stories, not big headlines that inspire crime writers.

Speaking about writing

Martyn Waites – Ideas are not the hard bit. The trick is finding out which ones work.
Mark Billingham – I usually start with an opening scene, a scene which leaves me and the detective with lots more questions. The first chapter should leave you, the reader, asking questions. You need the first chapter to hook a reader.

Neither Mark nor Martyn are big planners now. Martyn says that he used to be meticulous in his planning, with whiteboards and sticky notes all over the place. But it’s more fun not to plan. Often times they will have their editors asking “What happens next?” or “What happens to such and such character?” and the answer is always “I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know yet.”

Writing as a job.

Mark Billingham – I do actually have a whiteboard in my office, do you know what it says?

Empty white boardGet dressed

Buy cheese

Write novel

 

 

It is as simple as that. No detailed plans of who my characters are or where the story is heading.

The reality is that writing is a job. Not a 9-5 job, but a job just like any other.

 

Both very down to earth guys, they tell it like it is.

Being a commercial crime writer

They go on to tell us about the timescales for commercial authors and the expectations of both the readers and the publishers. The basic gist is that a commercial crime writer is to publish about one novel per year and ususllay it occurs that whilst they are publicising their new novel, they are working on their next one.

Considering the nature of their work, they are both very humorous and they speak about how there is little rivalry amongst commercial crime writers, this is down to the readership being vast.

“Just because you read a Michael Connolly, it does not mean you won’t then go on to read a Mark Billingham. We love that about our readers. And it means we don’t have the same rivalry as other genres.” (I’m paraphrasing here).

Both Martyn and Mark say that crime writers have a lot of fun because of this. In fact, Bloody Scotland (the crime writers literary festival) sees a five-a-side football match and the authors tend to drink at the bar with the patrons, rather than at their own private bar in a screened off area.

Martin also tells us that he “Is in a band” with several other crime writers. The Fun Lovin Crime writers.

 

Questions for the authors

When asked about the casting of one of his characters in the Thorne tv series, he states that he wasn’t his first choice either and some decisions were made about the character’s appearance based upon the actor’s preferences. Mark does go on to say though;

“Do you see Tom Cruise when you read a Reacher novel? No!”

And I agree. I was very sceptical about Jack Reacher Being played by Tom Cruise in the same way I was, and still am a little put out by Harry Bosch being played by Titus Welliver.  That being said, I still watch and enjoy both.

[In the up and coming TV series Tom Cruise is set to be replaced as Lee Child gives in to Fans]

 

Why write under different names?

Martyn has written six books under the pseudonym of Tania Carver. Why? Because he could. It all came about when his publicist agonised over the fact that he was lacking a high concept female thriller writer. Martyn to the rescue. He thought, I could do that, and so he did.

Which really does make an interesting divergence from the belief that women who write crime should write under a male name and men who write romance should write under a female name to get more fans. As discussed in my previous article Female authors are taking over, or are they?

Martyn says – As an actor, I learnt to say I could do anything and that is how Tania was born. Six novels later and she is still going strong.

He then tells us about her ‘coming out’ party which certainly gets the audience laughing.

This evening was a great night’s entertainment. A mixed audience of men and women, although an average age of about 50 with me being one of a handful of young people in the crowd, which really did surprise me. I suppose it just goes to show that reading for pleasure is still something that is predominantly done by the older generation. Or perhaps this was just a freak coincidence.

Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ speech

Productive weekend?

I have spent the weekend doing nothing. Which is great right? Well no, not if you attempting to start a business, run a successful blog or be a creative person, doing nothing is the opposite of a good weekend. I am attempting to do all of these things, so a weekend of doing nothing is, in fact, a failure, especially as I put in about 50 hours a week into my ‘day job’.

So in an attempt to claw back some semblance of a productive weekend, I started to read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ speech. The theory being that it might kick start me into doing something creative.

Although some would say that this blog post wasn’t creative, I beg to differ. In today’s society, there are many mediums which would previously have been overlooked or brushed off which now fall under the creative banner. Blogging is one of those, but I started this blog in an attempt to get me writing on a more regular basis, the theory being that you need to write more to get better at writing.

After this, I will move on to my own authory projects and in fact whilst writing this blog post, I have collaborated with my flatmate on the layout for one of our business websites and booked myself onto a course about getting finding an agent and a publisher, so more productive in this last two hours than the whole of the rest of the weekend combined.

The Book of the Speech

This book is actually pretty interesting, much apart from the title, the words and the meaning behind those words which make up the speech itself, because this book is a work of Art.

I used to work in a bookshop (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before) and if this book had come into my store, I really would have struggled to work out where to put it.

Why?

Because it is not a conventional book. Some would call it a coffee table book, being of the nature of the design of your classic book designed to be left on a coffee table for people to read. However, it is not a dip in and out kind of book, which most coffee table books are…

I think Neil Gaiman and Chip Kidd would be quite offended by this, to be honest. It is more in line with the essays of… collection by Penguin.

But then even that is not quite right. This book is a very visual interpretation of a speech about making good art which Neil Gaiman gave to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts students in May 2012. The visual side provided by Chip Kidd.

And I have to say, it is full of good advice and statements which really do make you think about what it means to make art and who in fact you are making it for. So much so that, even though I am fairly certain that no one will actually read this blog post (I haven’t SEO’d the life out of it for a start) I am still writing it and putting it out into the big wide world for all to see. Which is exactly the point.

Don’t make art for the money! Make the art you want to make and make it for you!

So, if you don’t want to spend the £12.99 to purchase this speech turned into a work of art, then you are welcome to listen and watch the whole thing on Vimeo.

Much like his wife, Amanda Palmer, Neil knows the benefits of giving away some of his work for free, he knows the worth of his fans and he knows how to encourage loyalty amongst them.

Neil Gaiman is the critically acclaimed, award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, stories, graphic novels, children’s books, and screenplays. Originally from England, Gaiman now lives in the United States. He fears the Fraud Police.

[Taken from the back sleeve of the book]

See below speech by Amanda Palmer on the definition of Fraud Police.

Chip Kidd provides the graphics and design for this book. It certainly is a piece of art.

Graphics from Neil Gaiman's Speech

Chip Kidd is a graphic designer and writer in New York City. He tries to make good art, but mostly just makes mistakes. Whether or not any of them are interesting, amazing, glorious, or fantastic is anyone’s guess.

[Taken from back sleeve of the book]

 

So, if you have a spare half hour and are looking for some inspiration, then I suggest you grab a copy and give it a read.

You can buy Neil Gaiman’s – Art Matters from Forbidden Planet.

Art Matters Neil Gaiman

Burial – Neil Cross

I am a little ashamed to say that this is the first Neil Cross book that I have read. I am a massive fan of Luther and was really pleased to discover that the series also had a series of three tie-in novels.

Why this book?

Neil Cross has written nine books in total and for most, it would make sense either to start at the beginning or with one of the Luther novels. I, however, chose to read one of his stand-alone novels to get a better idea of his writing style.

I love it when books are combined with other media. If you’ve checked out my Instagram you’ll see that I do love a good multimedia tie-in. From Terry Pratchett, via Harry Potter all the way to The Rivers of London series, if there are different media versions or tie-ins in different media’s then I’m there. Give me a good film adaptation, a tv series or an audiobook and I’m there, combine it with a game, graphic novel and display models of characters and I am in love.

This way of supplementing the storylines of Luther with additional tie-in novels is really appealing. So why not choose one of those as my first Neil Cross reading experience? If I’m honest, I didn’t’ want to taint the experience with my love of Luther the TV series. I often find that if you love a character or a series of characters then you can ignore bad writing.

Take J K Rowling as an example, she has done amazingly well and has written a brilliant story which appeals to both adults and children alike, but I genuinely do not feel that the Harry Potter series would have been commissioned on book one and two alone. If she had not submitted the overall story arc for the series, I don’t think book three would have been picked up. I find the writing style in the first book to be pretty basic and actually quite terrible. It was only at book three that I really began to enjoy the reading experience. Book one and two are necessary for setting out the storyline and introducing the characters, but for anyone (over the age of about 14) who enjoys reading, I think these are a necessary chore.

And for that reason, I chose a stand-alone.

The Story

Burial has a very simple storyline

Can your guiltiest secret ever be buried?

Nathan has never been able to forget the worst night of his life: the party that led to the sudden, shocking death of a young woman. Only he and Bob, an untrustworthy old acquaintance, know what really happened and they have resolved to keep it that way. But one rainy night, years later, Bob appears at Nathan’s door with terrifying news, and old wounds are suddenly reopened, threatening to tear Nathan’s whole world apart. Because Nathan has his own secrets now. Secrets that could destroy everything he has fought to build. And maybe Bob doesn’t realise just how far Nathan will go to protect them…

[Synopsis is taken from the back cover of the book]

The story for Burial is a simple one, girl dies and secrets are kept. It spans a period of about ten years I think and although some of these years are covered with the cursory, years later, you can forgive Neil this as the main events are covered in great detail and within a matter of pages, he is able to paint a realistic picture of the relationships which develop in the years not documented. True to life, it is the mundane which shows the passing of time and the extraordinary events which shape the actions and relationships of the main characters.

Neil manages to make you feel the pain of loss which is felt by the death of this girl as well as the regret and fear of the lead characters.

Note from the author

I wanted to tell a story where things just keep getting worse and worse for the main character. I wanted to write about guilt and ghosts and murder. But mostly, I wanted to entertain people, and frighten them. I wanted to keep them awake until the early hours.

In this respect at least, it turns out that that Burial was pretty successful. My new editor Francesca and I kept a nightmare tally.

[Taken from Neil-cross.com]

Did I find this book scary? At times it was a little spine-chilling yes. I think for me though, reading takes away some of the fear factor, I am in control and I know I can put the book down at any time.

I did, in fact, have one nightmare, but perhaps because I read this book in several sittings over a series of weeks, I was not continuously immersed in the world and the characters lives to the extent that I would have been if I read it all in one or two sittings.

Overall review

I really enjoyed this book and found that putting it down was quite hard. Unlike some though, it was easy to pick up again without having to re-read pages to discover where I had gotten up to. Like many of his other books, I feel this story would translate really well into a TV production. The fact that Neil Cross writes for TV shows in his writing style. The more I read and discover about authors, the more I realise that you can tell those authors whose job revolves around writing and those who do it as a side project or hobby.

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

This is a book about a mid-life crisis.

I may not be a homosexual American man facing turning fifty imminently, but I can still relate to the character of Arthur Less, as I think many of us can. Rather than face the uncomfortable truth that his lover of nine years has chosen to marry another man, Less embarks upon a trip around the world and whilst doing so, faces the prospect of turning fifty alone.

I’m not going to lie, this is where I see myself at 49, failed relationships haunting me, regret at life unlived, wanting to run away from my problems. Hell, that’s what I feel like already some days.

The only redeeming thing about Less is that he is a published author and even he feels as though that isn’t enough. His work on his current novel isn’t going well and really it is probably this, combined with the news of his ex’s wedding which pushes him to run away.

Synopsis

Who says you can’t run away from your problems?

Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes – it would be too awkward: he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world.

From France to India, Germany to Japan, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face. Less is a novel about mishaps, misunderstandings and the depths of the human heart.

Story and structure

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2018, this book is very well written. It paints a beautiful picture of each of the cities that Less visits and the people that he meets.

I found the structure of this book to be easy to read. Each chapter covers a different city or a different event in Less’s journey. It was a great book to read in amongst others, the subject matter was different to each of the other books I was reading at the time and the chapter structure made it easy to pick up and put down.

The writing is eloquent and the vocabulary used is most certainly award-winning. I found myself looking for my thesaurus just to feel more intellectual.

Is Less a loveable character? This is a hard question to answer, sometimes I found myself laughing, sometimes I found myself facepalming at the situations he seems to get himself into. And yet, he is lucky.

Less seems to find Love in one form or another in every city he visits. He is loved by his friends and his old flames and dalliances, rarely do you find a character this flawed who seems to land on his feet so often. Sure he has his major setbacks in life, but this just makes him more realistic.

Andrew Sean Greer has written six novels and a plethora of short stories. He has won many awards and Less has won him the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2018.

This makes total sense. Greer is a great writer, one who clearly excels at any subject which he puts his mind to.

The Girl Who takes an Eye for an Eye

Stieg Larsson and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of those books which was recommended by everyone. So many of my friends said that they had read it and enjoyed it, that it was “my kind of book”.

Eventually, I gave in and picked up a copy at my local charity shop. This is my usual strategy for dealing with books and/or authors who, I feel, are too popular. I refused to buy any of Dan Brown’s books brand new, and don’t even get me started on James Patterson. I’m a little bit less self righteous now a days.

The first two chapters (from what I can remember – it was a few years ago now) were a bit of a hard slog, Larsson was most certainly one for detail and he clearly did an awful lot of research for each of his novels. I did actually learn from these two chapters, but the subject was mainly the financial market of Sweden and how technology companies made their money, so really a bit dry.

Once I got past these chapters though, the story began to unfold and grabbed me, I began to read it ferociously, even taking it in the bath with me (not something I’m keen to do with hardbacks – after so many years and so many ‘destroyed’ books and dust jackets). I fell in love with the characters and willed them to find their happy ending, or perhaps just some closure and peace after so many years of mystery and loss.

This trilogy is not for the faint-hearted. There are several very graphic scenes depicted within its pages. I have to admit, when I found out it was going to be made into a film, I was pleased, but also a little apprehensive over how the director would deal with this level of graphic physical and sexual violence whilst still keeping the integrity of the story. I was, thankfully, pleasantly surprised.

After book one, I wasn’t sure how the story would progress as there did seem to be a rather neat round-up at the end,  but I was keen to find out and purchased each of the other two books in the trilogy brand new as they were released. It was a relief to see that Larsson really was a master storyteller and was able to push his characters into new plots and new conspiracies with ease.

Girl with the dragon tattoo comic

Check out the comic book version, available at Forbidden Planet.

 

 

 

 

One of the things which makes his stories so believable is the vast cast of characters who appear. Often in novels, the author will only write about and focus on characters with whom the main protagonist will come into contact. Larsson, however, knows that there are more than just the main characters in play in each of the scenarios and predicaments his characters get themselves into, he sees the far-reaching effects of the, often rash behaviour of his main characters, and he shows it to us. His ensemble cast is massive. For any of you who have read or even seen Game of Thrones, well he could easily have rivalled George R R Martin if he focussed on more than one the lands of Westeros and their ruling families.

When I first started reading this series of books, I got a little annoyed at his jumping between, seemingly unimportant, characters. but as time went on, and I learned of their importance to the story, I forgave him. It is this aspect which makes his often far-fetched stories come to life, seeing the scenarios from different characters, including the villains, makes each event a lot more tangible and real.

David Lagercrantz

Steig Larsson died prior to the publication of the Millenium series and it with this knowledge that I read them, knowing that the third book would be the last. So in 2015, when I saw that there was a fourth book, I was a little surprised, to say the least.

The publishers and Larsson’s estate (controlled by his brother and father) decided that a fourth book was a good idea in order to continue the ‘adventures’ of Lisbeth, such a foreboding (all be it tiny in stature) female character, one who showed strength and a strong moral compass (you really do have to read more than just a few chapters to see what is meant by this).

The Girl who took an Eye for an Eye

I was rather keen to read this book, to learn more about Lisbeth’s history but I was still worried about what a new author would do with the characters. It was well recorded that Lagaercrantz had a bit of an issue with the way in which women would throw themselves at Bloomkvist without a seconds thought. He, therefore, tries to make Bloomkvist work a bit more for female attention. Other than that though, he has kept quite closely to Larsson’s style.

Parts of Lisbeth’s story was, of course, explored and explained, in the three books written by Larsson; Lagaercratz goes on to explore some of the incidents in more depth, adding more psychology to the character of Lisbeth.

It is a well-written story which doesn’t take away from the Millenium series. Instead, adding to the depth and personal history of several of the characters, filling them out to make them more than merely two-dimensional characters on the periphery of Millenium and the authorities investigations, and instead making them fully fledged characters in their own right.

There are some interesting themes explored in this book; religion, honour and family play a pivotal role in the story and its twists and turns. Lisbeth and her moral beliefs and complexities get her into all sorts of trouble, whilst dealing with her own demons, both real and imagined.

Synopsis of the previous books

**** BEWARE – if you have not read any of the “trilogy” then please note that these synopses may contain spoilers. ***

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

The first book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon.

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

The Girl Who Played With Fire – Steig Larsson

The second book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon

Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander’s prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society – but no-one can find her.

Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium magazine’s legendary star reporter, does not believe the police. Using all his magazine staff and resources to prove Salander’s innocence, Blomkvist also uncovers her terrible past, spent in criminally corrupt institutions. Yet Salander is more avenging angel than helpless victim. She may be an expert at staying out of sight – but she has ways of tracking down her most elusive enemies.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest – Steig Larsson

The third book in the Millennium series featuring Lisbeth Salander – the global publishing phenomenon

Salander is plotting her revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release.

With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz

The sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series has been shrouded in such secrecy that the novel was written on computers with no internet connection to avoid any leaks. Based on a plot outline Stieg Larsson wrote before his death, the novel was completed by David Lagercrantz and is finally here.

The uncompromising anti-hero Lisbeth Salander is again the chief protagonist, along with campaigning journalist Mikael Blomkvist, a lone wolf and champion of the truth. When a superhacker has gained access to top secret U.S. intelligence, Lisbeth is accused of acting without reason, but Blomkvist knows there must be something deeper at the heart of this – unveiling a tangled web of truth that someone is prepared to kill to protect.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO IS BACK WITH A UK NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye – David Lagercrantz

From the author of the #1 international best seller The Girl in the Spider’s Web comes the fifth book in the Millennium series, which began with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the global publishing phenomenon that has sold more than 90 million copies worldwide.

Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, the brilliant hacker, the obstinate outsider, the volatile seeker of justice for herself and others—even she has never been able to uncover the most telling facts of her traumatic childhood, the secrets that might finally, fully explain her to herself.

Now, when she sees a chance to uncover them once and for all, she enlists the help of Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of the muckraking, investigative journal Millennium. And she will let nothing stop her—not the Islamists she enrages by rescuing a young woman from their brutality; not the prison gang leader who passes a death sentence on her; not the deadly reach of her long-lost twin sister, Camilla; and not the people who will do anything to keep buried knowledge of a sinister pseudoscientific experiment known only as The Registry.

Once again, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, together, are the fierce heart of a thrilling full-tilt novel that takes on some of the most insidious problems facing the world at this very moment.

Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

The Author

Paula Hawkins is most famously known for her debut novel ‘The Girl on the Train’, which is not only a bestselling novel but now a very successful film starring Emily Blunt.

I loved this book, I also quite enjoyed the film. There was something not quite right about the main character and everything that happened to her. You willed her to be more than she appeared. You felt sorry for her, but at the same time, you could definitely see yourself making the same mistakes. Rachel is a flawed individual, an alcoholic, at times a horrible person, but someone who you are rooting for. Hawkins manages to make her all of those things within the first couple of chapters and untangles her twisted tale throughout the rest of the book. It truly was a page-turner.

The Book

I have on occasion been known to use the cliched saying “This book was a joy to read”, I cannot, however, say that about this book. It is well written and the story is intriguing, but it is harrowing and I’d compare it to the feeling you get when watching a true life crime programme.  You know the feeling when you question how humanity can be so cruel and evil? That is how I feel about this book.

Into the Water front cover

The way I talk about this book is the way I hear people talking about ’13 Reasons Why’, it is at times painful to read and it reminds you of the horrendous acts which people can inflict upon each other.

However, Hawkin’s way of storytelling is really keeping me hooked, I really do want to know what happens.

Who killed Nel? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Who or what is this mysterious power who rids the town of ‘troublesome women’?

Synopsis

‘I need you to call me back. It’s important’

Just days before her sister plunged to her death, Jules ignored her call.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death.

But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowining in secrecy…

And of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

Relationships

The book focusses on the relationships between several central characters. It is perhaps the relationship between Jules and her sister Nel which makes me most uncomfortable, but this is, in fact, a positive reflection of Hawkin’s writing.

The realism of the relationships in her writing makes me question my own sibling relationship and wonder if I, the older sister are seen in such a negative light as Jules clearly see’s Nel. This relationship is tragic really, the sisters could have helped each other through so much, instead, they were at each other’s throats.

I have an almost morbid fascination with stories which focus on dysfunctional family relationships, I think that they make me feel better about my own. It can be cathartic, whilst also being incredibly uncomfortable, to relate to these characters so deeply.

Another main theme appears to be the relationship between parent and child. Each character’s relationship with either their parent or child is explored and the flaws in these relationships laid bare. Be it the distrust which Josh Whittaker has for his mother, the painful shared loss which prevents Sean from interacting properly with his father or perhaps Nel’s dysfunctional relationship with her daughter Lena.

At the heart of this book is not the river, as first believed, but the interactions and often disastrous encounters which the characters have with one another. the love and the hatred felt by each of them is visceral

Mystery and intrigue

The mystery surrounding ‘The Drowning Pool’ is what pulls the story on, but it is the character relationships which make up the bulk of the narrative, these interactions make up the daily lives of the characters whose lives seem rather mundane and normal on the surface. Once you look below the ordinary exterior of the people in Beckford you discover the dark secrets and turmoil hiding just below the surface

Setting

Into the Water is set in a small town called Beckford. It is supposedly about an hour’s drive from Craster and Howick. In spite of Hawkins very clear description of the town, it’s geography and it’s layout, it does not actually exist.

In researching this town, I have discovered a website called ‘The Book Trail‘ which discusses the locations discussed in various books. It is basically a blog which focusses on the settings of books. There is even a section in which authors will discuss their works in relation to the settings.

“As much fun travelling via fiction is, sometimes all you need is to sit back and take the time to enjoy a drink, a piece of cake and chat with the people on the journey with you”

Overall opinion

Although this book is not the most upbeat book I’ve read recently, it was certainly one which kept me hooked and wanting to know more every time I had to put it down. The twists and turns were not predictable and although you felt like some of the character’s actions were vindicated, I still felt myself questioning their motives or arguing with them in my head.

This is a very well written book and a story that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. Well worth a read, but only if you are in the right emotional state.

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

Book and Skull

Anthony Horowitz

I found this book on offer at my local supermarket. Having never read an Alex Rider novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the idea of Horowitz moving from Young Adult stories into Adult stories intrigued me.

When I picked up the book, I was unaware of Horowitz’s other career achievements in TV and film.

To me he had always been a YA author.

Story device

This book struck me as a bit strange and unusual within ten pages. Anthony Horowitz has broken the fourth wall of writing. This in itself is not unusual. It has been done in many novels over the years. What is unusual is that he had made himself a character. And the information he provides about himself is pretty accurate. It makes me wonder how much of the rest of the story is based on real people and real events. 

Lemony Snicket, of course, used this method in his ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, so it is not a new device, I think I was just a little surprised to see it used in such a way. This is, after all, a murder mystery. It is not as if he is using his voice as a character, he himself is the character, with a real life and a real family and his achievements are real and accurate, his career is real, even his script for Tintin being scrapped is real (although, who knows if it went down the way the describes in the book).

As I read through the book, I realised that there is a lot of factual information about who Horowitz has worked with and what he has worked on. So much so that at times I feel his main characters in the murder mystery are in fact real people. Although, after a few more paragraphs, you realise that he has likely taken the trajectory of one actor’s career, an actor he has worked quite closely with over the years, and lent it to his character. Changing perhaps only the spelling of his name and his, of course, his surname. In a way, this use of real people reminds me of ‘Being John Malkovich’ or James Van Der Beak’s character in ‘The B**** in apartment 23’.

Thoughts and opinions

Having now finished the book, I am more and more inclined to believe that this murder actually happened. Both Hawthorne and Anthony are of course real people, the places they visit are most certainly real, and it leads me to believe that many of the events are also. I am still unsure if Horowitz would have been allowed to play as big a part as he leads us to believe, but when you break the fourth wall, you’ve got to be at the heart of the action. 

The title of the novel appears on page 25, during a conversation between Horowitz and Hawthorne, he then also makes reference to this at the end of the book. I found this running commentary to the story to be very useful but at times a little off-putting. It is a good story, told well, but I think I found it hard to get over the main device.

Horowitz’s career

The other main character, Hawthorne, reminded me, in a lot of ways, of Sherlock Holmes. Which makes total sense as in 2011, Horowitz released ‘The House of Silk’ the first Sherlock Holmes novel written as a new story with the estates blessing. However, I believe that he is also a real person, but whether he’s as insightful or reserved as his character in the book, is anyone’s guess.

The house of silk

You can purchase The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz from Forbidden Planet.

 

 

 

 

 

The more I read about Horowitz and his career both on and off the screen, the more I realise that he was an ideal choice for such an endeavour.

He has since written a second Sherlock Holmes novel, Moriarty and in 2014, the Ian Flemming estate commissioned him to write ‘Trigger Mortis’, a new James Bond novel. His Alex Rider novels, of course, made him an obvious choice for this franchise as they are often referred to as ‘Teenage James Bond’.

His second James Bond novel “Forever and a Day” has just been released in hardback.

“007 is back. After authentically recreating the golden age of James Bond in his high-speed thriller, Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz is back in Ian Fleming‘s shoes once more.  In Forever and a Day he brings readers an official prequel to Casino Royale, telling the story of the origins of the world’s most famous secret agent.” – Waterstones

The Word is Murder

The story itself is a pretty good one, a murder mystery at heart and one which compels you to read on and learn more. Not just about the murder but about  Horowitz, (or Anthony, as he likes to be called) and Hawthorne themselves. 

“A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.  A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own. A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control. What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz’s page-turning new thriller.

Spread the word, The Word is Murder!” (sic) – Waterstones

I have to admit, even if this novel weren’t written by a world-famous author like Horowitz, I’d have picked it up, the blurb alone is intriguing. Although, it now gives me pause on the idea of pre-arranged funerals. The story actually turns out to be quite emotional with plot twists galore, most of which I, the reader, did not see coming.

I also found the writing to be easy to follow and fast paced, perhaps this is down to his career in young adult fiction. I did actually find myself steaming through the pages of this book. A great read to take away on holiday or on a long train/plane journey. Reading this book was actually quite pleasurable if at times a little off-putting when Horowitz himself interjects his thoughts and feelings. Definitely worth a read though.