Review: Vicious Circle by C.J. Box

It all begins when when Dave Farkus — longtime troublemaker and unlikely partner in many of Joe Pickett’s inadvertent escapades — phones Joe from Stockman’s Bar to say he’s overheard a conversation about Joe and his family. He’s cut off before he can provide any concrete information, but the implication is clear: the Pickett clan’s a target. And when Farkus turns up dead — brutally executed by unknown assailants — Joe know something is amiss. He quickly ties it together — presumably at least — when he discovers Dallas Cates, the disgraced rodeo star who ran off with Joe’s daughter April, dumped her out of his truck, and ended up in the prison, has just been released, and is out for vengeance after the deaths of his father and two brothers. But is everything really as open-and-shut as that scenario suggests?

Vicious Circle will resonate most for those who are keenly aware of the two families’ fraught history; readers who’ve been waiting for the final showdown for a couple of books now, knowing it would be vicious and bloody. There isn’t much new here — this is the C.J. Box formula perfected — but the Joe Pickett series is one that hasn’t surpassed its use-by date, and still provides plenty of action and excitement.

Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jack Serong

9781925355215Jock Serong has written a clever and unique Australian crime novel weaving together the folklore of cricket, both the backyard variety and the international, into a classic piece of noir. The novel is told from the point of view of Darren Keefe, the younger brother of former Australian Cricket captain Wally Keefe. Darren’s life is literally flashing before his eyes as he lies gagged and bound in the boot of a car on his way to what he expects is his certain execution.

Darren recounts his childhood growing up with Wally; their epic battles in the backyard and their rise through Australia’s cricket ranks. Wally is a stoic, stubborn opening batsmen who accumulates his runs without ever giving the opposition a sniff of getting him out. While Darren is the more brash, younger brother, taking risks and entertaining the crowd. These traits are reflected in each brother off the field. Wally, the more responsible and sensible, is quickly elevated to the Test team and then it’s captaincy while settling down to start a family. Darren, meanwhile,  is the larrikin everyone loves to watch and wants to know who flits from scandal to controversy on and off the field. All the while moving closer to his possibly imminent end inside the boot of a car.

This is one of the funnest crime novels I’ve read in years and is definitely the cricket/crime novel I never knew I wanted to read. This is going to be THE book for summer. Perfect for reading in front of the cricket itself.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Whites by Harry Brandt

9781408864586It has been seven years since Richard Price last published a novel and it has been worth the wait. Writing under the transparent pseudonym Harry Brandt, Richard Price again demonstrates he truly is a master when it comes to crime and American life. Price delivers a multi-layered, slow-burning portrayal of friendship, justice and revenge and how easily the three of them can be incompatible.

Billy Graves was a member of The Wild Geese, the WGs. A group of cops in the early 90s fresh into uniform and looking to make a difference on the wild streets of New York. Twenty years later he’s the only one still carrying a badge. The rest of his crew have successfully and unsuccessfully carved out new careers, all for different reasons and under different circumstances. But all of them are still haunted by their ‘Whites’. The cases that got away from them, where justice for one reason or many was never served. The cases they just can’t let go of, for the families of the victims and their own sense of right and wrong.

Billy Graves is in charge of the Night Watch. The unit that responds to calls during the never glamorous night shift. He’s given the dregs of the department. The misfits and washouts, the cops nobody else wants to work with. He does his shifts and rushes home to get his two boys off to school before sleeping through the rest of the day. It’s life and it has it’s rhythm. Until he’s called to the scene of a stabbing where the victim is one of the WG’s ‘Whites’. When another ‘White’ is reported missing it is too much of a coincidence. As Billy picks around the edges suspicions quickly turn to betrayals. And when his wife and kids are targeted by a stalker it all suddenly gets too much for Billy. Operating on a severe lack of sleep and trust he grapples with what is the right thing to do while events slowly escalate around him.

Richard Price not only has one of the best ears for authentic dialogue but also for the street. It’s noises and rhythms that ebb and flow around those whom inhabit it.

“THE SOUND of tires rolling over a side street full of shattered light bulbs was like the sound of Jiffy Pop achieving climax”

He brings all his characters and their turmoils vividly to life with sublime nuance and empathy. Ultimately this is a story about the mistakes we make and how those mistakes and their consequences haunt us constantly. About how justice can be blind but vengeance can be all-consuming. If you let it.

Buy the book here…

Review – Silence Once Begun by Jesse Bell

9780307908483This is one of those great novels that blends up truth and imagination so well that the lines between fact and fiction are so blurred you don’t even know where to begin trying to unravel it. It also doubles the intrigue especially the way Jesse Ball structures the story to unfurl piece by piece, layer by layer in such a way you are taken by surprise after surprise.

The story concerns the “Narito Disappearances”. A crime that baffled local authorities in Osaka where eight people had gone missing seemingly without a trace until one day a signed confession is handed in to police. The man who has made the confession is quickly arrested and doesn’t say another word. But this is not a whodunit because as the story goes on we see there is a much bigger and more important question that who.

“I am looking for this mystery. Not the mystery of what happened but the mystery of how”

One one level this is an ingenious crime novel. By telling the story in a different order the facts and “truth” aren’t revealed to us until we get to the beginning of the story. Rather than telling the story in chronological order we follow the path Jesse Ball’s investigation follows like a trail of breadcrumbs. Ball recounts his investigation through interview transcripts and internal notes as well as letters and other documents he is given along the way.  Each interview shines a little more light onto the story and leads Jesse to another piece of the puzzle.

I was so engrossed in this book it wasn’t until finishing it that I truly digested what I had read. In many ways this is a modern parable about the moral fallacies we place on our systems of justice but the skill and subtlety in which Jesse Ball tells the story gives it not just power but also emotional resonance. And by doing so Jesse Ball gets to the absolute core of what a crime story is and what it should mean when we read one.

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Review: One Boy Missing by Stephen Orr

9781922147271This is one of the best crime books I have read in a while. Totally absorbing, emotionally gripping it is one of those books that sinks its teeth into you and doesn’t let go. Set in the South Australian town of Guilderton the book not only explores life in a small rural town but the bonds between fathers and sons.

The book begins with a nine-year-old boy being taken. There is only one witness but other than that nothing else to go on. No child has been reported missing. Was this an abduction? Is there a crime?

Detective Bart Moy, recently returned to Guilderton to look after his father, begins his investigation that quickly leads nowhere. Moy’s search takes him through the heart and the outskirts of the small town and its inhabitants as well as his own inner turmoil. Moy is haunted by the loss of his own son and is determined not to let the this case go. But at the same time wonders if he can make any difference.

Stephen Orr plots this novel brilliantly. He has your doubting and questioning events in tandem with Moy who is struggling at being a decent cop (and he knows it) yet needs to solve this case. You get glimpses of the man he was before he returned to Guilderton but at the same time knows it is impossible for that part of him to return.

Harrowing yet hopeful this is a reflective a crime novel where finding the case is as important as solving it.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

9781250019530Dennis Tafoya is one the best kept secrets in crime fiction. Which is a shame because he deserves to be heralded in the same breath as George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane. And his new novel only confirms this, in spades.

Frannie Mullen is a US Marshall. After a bungled operation she takes full responsibility for any mistakes that were made and quits her job. As she tries to sort out her life and help her sister recover from another round of rehab, the father she thought was long out of her life returns. Her father, Patrick Mullen, was a thug and enforcer for a local trade union whose violent job was also part of a violent life at home. Now on the run from prison Patrick cuts a violent path toward his two daughters. Looking for revenge, but revenge for what and for whom is a very long list.

Tafoya’s action scenes are simply sublime, in particular the opening scene of the novel. But what really sets Tafoya apart from the pack is the heart he brings to his stories and his characters which he does once again here. Emotion is what drives people and that is what is at the core of this brilliant novel. The emotions that drive us and the damage they do along the way. Tafoya captures this brilliantly in a fast-moving, intense page-turner that will keep you totally gripped and double guessing right until the final pages.

Buy the book here…

Review – Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

GalvestonI have been completely and utterly addicted to (and obsessed by) True Detective so when I found out the show’s creator and writer had written a crime novel I had to read it. And what a cracking book it is. Using some of the same elements as his television show Pizzolatto has constructed a highly atmospheric, slow burning thriller.

Roy Cady is a bagman who has just been diagnosed with cancer and sent on a job where he thinks his boss has tried to have him whacked. Now on the run he must navigate his way from New Orleans to East Texas with a young woman and her sister in tow. Roy is conflicted between his own short-term survival and that of the two girls now under his protection.

Just like True Detective Pizzolatto shifts time perception to perfection, drip feeding you bits of information, past and future, that leave you craving to know more.The raw emotion of Roy Cady is brutally and poignantly displayed and the way Pizzolatto describes the gulf coast landscape is an amazing blend of desolation and beauty.

We already know from True Detective that Nic Pizzolatto knows how to tell a story. Galveston proves that this talent was evident well before his HBO series.

Via Buzz Feed A list of dark, weird, and southern gothic books that every fan of HBO’s True Detective should read.

Review – After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

9780571299676Laura Lippman delivers another absorbing thriller that sucks you in with vivid characters and great plotting. Inspired by a true story of a Baltimore mobster who went missing in the 1970s while under house arrest, Lippman does what she does best, sees a side to the story more interesting than the headline, the people left behind.

Felix Brewer had it all; a beautiful wife, three wonderful daughters and money, via a successful numbers racket. But when it finally came time to face the music, in 1976, Felix ran, leaving everything and everyone behind including a host of unanswered questions. And another woman.

The story jumps from 2012 back to 1959 and slowly comes forward. In 2012 a cold case is reopened by retired city homicide cop Roberto ‘Sandy’ Sanchez. Felix’s girlfriend, Julie disappeared in 1986. Everyone assumed she had gone to join Felix. However her body turned up 15 years later and now her murder, like Felix’s disappearance, remains unsolved.

Through the alternating storyline we get to know the people Felix left behind. His wife Bambi, his daughters Linda, Rachel and Michelle, his best friends Burt and Tubby and his girlfriend Julie. We see the impact his disappearance had on their lives and the jealousies that festered between them all.  We also start to learn the secrets, half-truths and lies that have been built around them. Protecting them, shielding them and ultimately betraying them all.

Laura Lippman is the master of this kind of storytelling. Not only does she create intricately built, suspenseful mysteries but she totally absorbs you with wonderfully realized characters each of whom is coming to terms with their place in an ever-changing world. Each of whom bears a responsibility for what has happened but all of it ultimately stemming from being left behind.

Buy the book here…

Review – Beams Falling by P.M. Newton

9780670074525Ex-cop P.M. Newton burst onto the Australian crime writing scene four years ago with her impressive debut The Old School. Newton’s distinctive style and experience brought a point of view sadly missing from most Australian crime novels. And the introduction of Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly was a welcome change from the usual clichéd lead character in Australian crime fiction. Set in the early 1990s Newton explored a world of corruption, racism and sexism, where history weighs heavily on everybody’s shoulders.

I am going to go out on limb here (a very sturdy limb) and state now that I think Beams Falling is even better than The Old SchoolBeams Falling takes up where The Old School left off. One of the pitfalls of many crime series is continuity. Often the hero comes back in the next installment, slightly scarred, but ready to continue the fight, with few hangovers (so to speak) from past cases or events. But one of the great things about P.M. Newton’s writing is the authenticity she brings to the page. Yes there is a murder to solve in this book but one of the main parts to this novel is Ned’s recovery, physical and mental, to the horrific events at the end of The Old School.

After recovering in hospital and working the system Ned is passed fit to return to work. However her old station doesn’t want her back after what she did. She eventually ends up in Cabramatta, part of a task force assigned to crack down on the rising crime in the area. To the media she is now a hero cop and the brass are going to milk that for all it’s worth. When two young boys are gunned down in separate incidents, more victims in the never-ending drug war, Ned realizes the hard way she is not ready to come back to the job and must now confront the possible bitter truth about whether she actually wants the job back at all.

Newton has packed so much into this book. This is not only an intricate crime mystery but a fascinating exploration of the social, political and economic impact of migration in Sydney’s west. Newton shows there is much more to Cabramatta than what the media fed us in the 1990s and shows the human side and the human cost of a so-called “war” on drugs. At the same time Newton explores the complex issue of corruption, demonstrating the varying degrees and guises it can take, the consequences it has and how the concept of good and bad, right and wrong gets totally and utterly blurred. Combined with the psychological aspect and Newton has produced a truly remarkable novel.

Buy the book here…

How I Discovered Peter Temple

9781922147400I first discovered Peter Temple with THE BROKEN SHORE and was blown away. I have to admit to a bit of cultural cringe when it comes to Australian writing in the crime genre but Peter Temple has completely and utterly broken this down. I discovered THE BROKEN SHORE via my favourite UK crime writer, John Harvey. I was lucky enough to have lunch with Harvey a few year ago and we got to talking about our favourite crime reads of that year. We both agreed that Don Winslow’s THE POWER OF THE DOG was far and away one of the best crime novels we had read but John Harvey said that THE BROKEN SHORE was equally as brilliant. The fact  an Australian novel was receiving this kind of praise and I hadn’t read it (or even had it on my radar) greatly shamed me and I was determined to rectify the situation.

I do consider myself a crime reader although I am not exclusive to that genre. I also have quite specific tastes when it comes to the genre. I loathe formula and try to avoid the traditional murder mystery. This is probably why I rarely read British crime (John Harvey being the exception) and lean toward American noir usually with a social bent (although I do have an affinity for some gritty Irish crime too).  George Pelecanos is my benchmark and I love anything and everything by Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, Richard Price and Don Winslow. Before discovering THE BROKEN SHORE I didn’t think Australian crime fiction had anything to offer me, but I was wrong. Very wrong.

After reading THE BROKEN SHORE I knew I then had to read everything else by Peter Temple. My next book was IN THE EVIL DAY, an international political thriller equal of any bestseller on the market. I followed this with SHOOTING STAR, a brilliant kidnap thriller that digs into the never talked about class system in Australia. AN IRON ROSE is another great thriller that showed Peter Temple’s wasn’t just limited to urban Australia but could take the knife to the underbelly of rural Australia too.

Temple’s understanding of the relationship between urban Australia and rural Australia was taken to a new level with THE BROKEN SHORE and TRUTH. The two novels are not a sequence put more of a pair. Together they show the dichotomy of Australia. Both novels are as powerful and profound as each other. TRUTH highly deserved to win Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, The Miles Franklin. It defied its genre and its conventions and the way Temple played with language, particularly the voices of each character was truly amazing. But THE BROKEN SHORE also did this and would have also been a worth Mile Franklin winner. Maybe we weren’t ready for a crime novel to win but THE BROKEN SHORE deserves all the same accolades as TRUTH.

The Jack Irish series is also impressive. THE BROKEN SHORE and TRUTH stand apart because they defied their genre and broke downs its conventions. The Jack Irish series is brilliant because it is the top of its field within its genre and its conventions. It is classic noir in the US sense but it is also completely and utterly uniquely Australian. It is the complete package capturing the damp, cold Melbourne atmosphere with the sly and witty Australian vernacular. And if that isn’t enough the description of food and wine (even Vegemite on toast) will leave you salivating. Temple creates such richly detailed atmosphere combined with incredibly nuanced language while keeping an essence of Australia that is unique as well as instantly recognizable.

It is little wonder Peter Temple has stood down from the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia’s Crime writing awards) as it is completely unfair to all other Australian crime writers when he is eligible for one. Peter Temple is a genius and a national treasure and he should be on stamps!

Rumour also has it a third book is on the way in The Broken Shore/Truth series.

Perfect reading for this time of year.

Book Review – The Gods of Guilt

9781743317532I can distinctly remember reading John Grisham as a teenager and really getting into the legal thriller but as his books began to resemble movie pitches rather than novels and as I began to discover more authors and other books I drifted away. When I got back into crime fiction I wasn’t after clearly defined genre and I gravitated to the darker side of crime where right and wrong are hard to define. The legal thriller generally is all about right and wrong. It is either about someone innocent trying to clear their name or a guilty person being brought to justice. They can often throw up some interesting moral dilemmas but at the end of the day the law manges to right all wrongs. Which as we all know is total bs.

I started ready the Mickey Haller series because I wanted to try Michael Connelly but didn’t want to commit to his extensive backlist. So when he began this series a few years back with The Lincoln Lawyer I found my way in. While the series isn’t as black as I usually take my crime it is nice and grey. Mickey Haller is one leg up from ambulance chaser. He’s a defence attorney who works out of his town car. He knows the law isn’t perfect and uses that to his advantage whenever he can. He also knows he’s an asshole and isn’t shy about who he defends. He gets manipulated about as much as his manipulates others and you can debate if justice was actually served at the end of each book.

What I love most about the books is the tactics of a trial. The to and fro between the defence and the prosecutor plus the permutations thrown up by an individual judge. Haller must navigate a minefield while on a tightrope and it makes for compelling reading. In the last book Connelly even switches things around by having Haller work for the District  Attorney.

The other thing I like about the books is Haller himself. He is not self-righteous (although he is extremely cocky) and his personal life is a complete disaster.

In the latest book Haller must defend a pimp accused of killing one of his escorts. Haller has a stale in the case as he knew the victim and knows there is more to this case than the police allege. Haller soon enters a high stakes game involving a Mexican drug cartel and corruption. As Haller’s case comes to head you are right in the thick of it and I found myself cursing and admonishing Haller for some of his decisions.

Perfect reading for this time of year.

Buy the book here…

Ah Arkady Renko, its good to have you back.

9781849838115Review – Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

Ah Arkady Renko, its good to have you back. Still cantankerous and stubborn and able to not only sniff out trouble but completely ensconce yourself in it. One of the most endearing characters in crime fiction returns in the best Arkady Renko novel since Wolves Eat Dogs.

We first met Arkady Renko in 1981 and as we have followed his journey we have followed that of Russia and the former Soviet Union. The latest novel takes place in a Russia where corruption is not only in full swing, it is par for the course. Tatiana Petrovna is an investigative journalist who, like our hero, won’t just let the status quo stand without questioning. However modern-day Russia has no tolerance for journalists and Tatiana soon meets a nasty end.

Her death is ruled suicide but Arkady senses that the truth isn’t being told. However he doesn’t have a case until Tatiana’s body goes missing from the morgue. His digging leads him through various crime syndicates to the forgotten port of Kaliningrad. Once the German city Konigsberg, then a city with no name during the Cold War and home to lucrative Amber mine. They key to everything is a translator’s notebook, written in a code only one person knows, whose body has also recently turned up.

Fans of Arkady Renko will be well pleased. I have no idea how old the weathered and beaten old detective is but there is plenty of life in him yet and plenty of trouble for him to find and stir up.

Buy the book here…

This might just be George Pelecanos’s best work to date.

9781409114604Review – The Double by George Pelecanos

This might just be Pelecanos’s best work to date. Which when I look back at his books that is a big call but one I am more than willing to make because George Pelecanos is carving out something pretty special with Spero Lucas.

We first met Spero in 2011’s The Cut; a returned serviceman who is looking to make up for lost time as well as recapture some of the experiences he had overseas. Spero is also adopted. He’s been raised by Greek-American parents and Pelecanos is deliberately vague about his race.  But race isn’t a dominating issue in either of the novels, not to say it isn’t there, it is set in modern-day America, but the colour of Spero’s skin doesn’t define him as character. The decisions he makes, the influence and bearing his friends and family have on him, the experiences he has lived through make Spero who he is and is why one of the reasons this series is such an accomplishment,

Another reason The Double is so good is that it works so well as conventional crime thriller. The plot is constantly moving, there is plenty of action and tension, both physically and emotionally. And the good guy and the bad guy are clearly defined but there is plenty of grey to smudge them up too.

Spero is still running his one-man, private investigation business. He takes casework from a defense attorney and cash jobs on the side. The balance of each suits Spero giving him flexible hours and spending money. One of these cash jobs is the retrieval of a stolen painting. A woman has been scammed and robbed in a very callous fashion and hires Spero to get her property back. But the manner in which Spero pursues the job will lead him down a very dark path, one he may not be able to walk back from.

But there is also so much more going on beneath this storyline. Like The Cut Pelecanos again examines the lives of America’s most recent military veterans, how they are adapting to life back home and how home is adapting to them. Pelecanos’s most regular character, the city of Washington DC, as always plays an important role. This time one of change and renewal and a sense of loss that it can bring. But the moral, emotional and physical crossroad that Spero finds himself in is the core of this gripping narrative and again demonstrates that pigeonholing George Pelecanos as just a crime writer is a huge mistake.

Buy the book here…

Review – Visitation Street

Visitation Street is urban opera writ large. Gritty and magical, filled with mystery, poetry and pain, Ivy Pochoda’s voice recalls Richard Price, Junot Diaz, and even Alice Sebold, yet it’s indelibly her own.” – Dennis Lehane

9781444778250This quote on the back of the book drew me straight in to this book and I was not disappointed. This is a brilliantly written mystery set in and around the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Red Hook. Two girls take a raft out one summer evening but only one returns. What happened? The events will echo through the tightly divided neighbourhood.

We follow the surviving girl Valerie as she tries to cope with what has happened to her best friend June. We follow Cree, a young African-American man from the projects who was the last to see the girls together. We follow Jonathan, the local music teacher who found Valerie but also has his own demons to contend with. And we follow Fadi who owns the local bodega which, through a lot of his own hard work, is the hub of the Red Hook community. And through these characters we meet the mysterious Ren who has his own secrets to keep and tell.

This is what good crime fiction is all about. The story, the people, the place is all real and living on the page. There are no quirky cops, in fact there are barely any cops at all. There is no vicious or deranged killer. There are no plot twists. It is just life where people are trying to survive; with each other, with the world, with their past. There are only a handful of writers who can write crime like this; George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon and Laura Lippman. Ivy Pochoda joins them and I can’t wait to read more from her.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Cold, Cold Ground & I Hear The Sirens In The Street

9781846688232The Cold, Cold Ground

I have been a fan of Adrian McKinty ever since I picked up DEAD I WELL MAY BE. I knew he had me hooked the moment Michael Forsythe began listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind on a New York Subway Train. I’ve always had a soft spot for Irish writers but that book took my breath away and I’ve eagerly awaited every book since. His new book begins with a reference to my favourite novel, THE THIN RED LINE by James Jones, and I knew straight away he had me. And no exaggeration, this is one of the best crime novels I have ever read. McKinty’s last books, FALLING GLASS, was superb but THE COLD, COLD GROUND blew me utterly away. It is easily his best book to date and is also the start of a new trilogy. I cannot wait to see where he takes it.

Set in Belfast, 1981 McKinty immerses you completely in the time and place. Right from the opening pages you are put smack in the middle of the riots and the hunger strikes. Belfast is a war zone where law and order aren’t worth the bricks they’re graffiti’d on. Sean Duffy is a Catholic detective in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). This and his ‘charm’ make him a magnet for trouble and he is posted to relatively quite Carrickfergus (relative to Belfast not anywhere else).

Through Duffy, McKinty explores the absurdity of ‘The Troubles’, the hypocrisy on both sides, the ignorant hatred and the politics of self-interest from Irish and British alike.

In the midst of all this a killer on the loose targeting homosexuals. The media isn’t focused on the murders and in a country where homosexuality is illegal and the paramilitaries on both sides have a zero-tolerance attitude there is nothing but apathy to the case. Except of course from Sean Duffy.

This all sounds very bleak but the novel is littered with brilliant humour. Duffy is a real smart-arse particularly when he shouldn’t be and the banter amongst the cops and between the various paramilitary groups is highly entertaining and stops you falling into a well of despair. The ending, as always with McKinty, is an absolute cracker with a wee taste of things to come.

This book is what crime writing is all about. A mystery to keep you guessing, plotted to make you turn the pages as fast as you can but the heart of the story is the place the characters inhabit and the complicated mess in which they must exist and by the end you’re not concerned with who did it or if justice is done because your mind has been opened up to a much bigger picture which can never be black and white. Bravo Adrian McKinty.

Buy the book here…

9781846688188I Hear The Sirens In The Street

The second installment of the Sean Duffy trilogy is set a year later in 1982. The Hunger Strikes maybe over but Belfast is still well and truly deep in The Troubles. When Britain goes to war with Argentina over the Falklands the tensions and dangers only increase. Sean Duffy’s nose for trouble is still acute but if he can’t find trouble he can certainly stir it up. The novel opens with Duffy doing just that which leads him to finding a torso in a suitcase. Being Northern Ireland there are a myriad of possibilities and Duffy won’t leave any stone unturned no matter whose toes he tramples on.

McKinty again drops you smack bang into Belfast with all the sights and sounds of 1982 as well as what was effectively a war zone. The brilliantly plotted crime mystery is infused with wickedly black humour and the politics of Northern Ireland has the added complexity of Britain being distracted and America taking an unofficial interest. The book also centers around the DeLorean Factory (the car from Back To The Future) and the economics of a war torn city.

I’ve loved all Adrian McKinty’s books but there is something special about this trilogy he is creating. This trilogy will go down as one of the absolute classics of the crime genre and I’m already dying to see how the trilogy ends especially after reading the small preview you’re given at then end of this book. These books are why I love the crime genre. It goes places other fiction rarely dares and it takes you there from different perspectives while thoroughly entertaining you at the same time.

Buy the book here…

Into the Darkest Corner of the Crime Writer’s mind (part 2 of 2)

Yesterday we published part 1 of our interview with Elizabeth Haynes, whose debut novel Into the Darkest Corner deals with domestic abuse, obsession and OCD, and she discussed writing crime and suspense fiction. Today we have her hard-won advice for other writers starting out.

She completed the first draft of Into the Darkest Corner, her first published book, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2008. Did she set out to write a publishable book from the start? “No, definitely not! When I first heard about NaNoWriMo in October 2005 I was very excited by the challenge. I’ve always written but never anything full-length, what this did was to give me permission to write and not stop, not to worry about the quality or fuss over the plot.”

“NaNoWriMo has to be fun, otherwise it’s not really worth doing. If you set out to write something for publication I don’t think it would be nearly so much fun to participate. Even now, with a publishing deal for future books, I have to write in November as though it’s just going to be for me to read, otherwise I think it would be overwhelmingly scary.”

“I’d won three years of NaNoWriMo before I did actually manage to finish a story, though, the others were all still mid-plot by December, and even after five months of trying to edit it myself it took my cousin to say to me ‘why don’t you send it off?’ It hadn’t been something I’d considered as a possibility until then.”

Writing may have a reputation for being a one-person job, but Elizabeth find that other people’s views and opinions are vital to help her get the best from her plot. “It always helps me to discuss it as it evolves an awful lot through the writing and editing process. Talking about it sparks new ideas and helps me see what the underlying themes are, and which bits work – or don’t. I think this is because I always write at speed, without anything other than a germ of an idea to start me off.”

“Writing is a very solitary business but it’s only when you share your work with other people that you can start to make it better. I would advise joining a local writing group – or starting one – and listen to feedback when you can. Try writing in different genres to stretch your literary muscles. And write-ins (where you meet other writers and, basically, write) can really help to get your creative juice going. Being answerable to other people helps you maintain focus!”

Elizabeth loves to write and meet writers, but it’s not just enthusiasm that makes a great book; she recommends getting the experts in for a dispassionate read and further development. Even if that’s nowhere near as much fun as the writing itself!  “I think my biggest hurdle is always the editing process. I can write a good-ish story, develop some cracking characters and finish it with no real concept of where it’s all gone wrong. I’m lucky to have a brilliant editor who seems to have an almost magical insight into how to make things better.”

It’s not just editors she asked for an opinion; her second novel, Revenge of The Tide, is about a woman is an office worker by day and pole dancer in an upmarket club by night. While Elizabeth has the background in office work, pole-dancing wasn’t in her repertoire. “I did actually go along to pole fitness classes. This was so far out of my comfort zone it was ridiculous – I’m 40, a mother of one and definitely not built for fitness classes of any sort – but the instructors and the other girls in the class were brilliant and welcoming. I did the warm ups with them (which just about killed me) and then watched them do the rest of the class, sitting on the floor of the studio with my notebook, drawing stick figure representations of the moves.”

“Having watched pole dancing on television (and inspired by a pole dancer who was on Britain’s Got Talent) you would think I had all the information I needed – but I’m so glad I did the class as I learned a lot of things you wouldn’t necessarily realise – such as the friction burns you get on the inside of your thighs, and the fact that the poles in clubs are thicker than the ones used for pole fitness. If I experience things like this, I can write about them. I did also have a long phone conversation with a former dancer, who let me in on the secrets of what it was like in the world of gentlemen’s clubs.”

It wasn’t her first time trying to get into the head of a character with different views; In The Darkest Corner’s main character, Catherine, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) brought on by trauma. Elizabeth not only had to understand OCD but write about it in a way that made a reader understand it too.

“I’ve had very positive feedback on it, which I’m relieved about because I have no direct experience of OCD, other than that I’m on that continuum – as I think we all are – which starts with little habits and supersitions, like counting your steps or avoiding ‘unlucky’ numbers. I had a lot of help from a dear friend who is a consultant psychologist. She recommended me some books, which included not only treatment protocols but case studies of people who have OCD. I think obsession is something we can all relate to because everyone experiences milder versions at some point; compulsion is something else, the fact of having no option but to behave in a certain way, even as an intelligent, outwardly ‘normal’ adult. That was very difficult to write and I’m still not sure it comes across.”

“I think sometimes characters come to me quite easily, other times they take a bit of coaxing before I know them well enough to tell their story. I have two characters in my latest book who are either socially inept or socially phobic, and it’s been difficult to draw them out enough to get a clear sense of who they are. But knowing their world, knowing what it’s like for them to live, definitely makes things easier.”

Her characters aren’t always 100% fictional. “I always use at least one real person’s name in each book (with their permission!). With Into the Darkest Corner, it was Naomi, my friend and fellow police analyst. My third book contains a character named after a friend on Twitter, who insisted on being used thus! Revenge of the Tide has a character called Robby Nicks who is actually my next door neighbour!”

Her readers – and her neighbours – will be relieved to hear that while she occasionally draws on real-life for ideas, that’s not the case with her portrayal of Robby. “He isn’t a baddie in real life!”

Into the Darkest Corner of the Crime Writer’s mind (part 1 of 2)

Elizabeth Haynes’s suspense-filled debut novel, Into the Darkest Corner, was penned as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2008. Just three years on, it sits on Amazon’s 10 Best UK Books of 2011 (alongside George RR Martin’s Dance with Dragons and Steve Jobs’s biography) and her second book, Revenge of the Tide, has just hit the shelves. In this, the first of a two-part blog, we ask her about writing about and working with crime, and where she got the inspiration for her first published novel.

Elizabeth lives in Kent, in the South East of England, but has family ties in Australia – her grandparents came to Pearcedale, Victoria, in the early 1950s and lived in a tent there while they built their home themselves. “My grandmother was a keen and talented writer who might have had a completely different life if she’d not had six kids and a husband to look after. She wrote a long story about their experiences called ‘Now We Are Pioneers’, which was published in Australian Woman and Home magazine – so maybe I get my enthusiasm for writing from her.”

When she’s not writing about crime, she works with it; Elizabeth is a police intelligence analyst. “Analysts do a variety of specialist jobs for the police, but at the core of all of them is examining crime data to look for patterns which can then be used to direct police resources to where they will be most effective. Analysts who work for neighbourhood police might look at burglary data in terms of method, time of day, proximity to transport, types of housing targeted etc to try and then predict where the offenders might strike next. Some analysts specialise in major crime, things like murders, kidnappings and rape, providing timelines to show the key events, and phone analysis to look for evidence. We also look at criminal gangs and analyse the relationships between the members – it’s quite a varied set of jobs and never gets boring.”

“It’s the ideal job for a writer, really, because one of the fundamental skills of the analyst is the ability to ask ‘what if?’ to every situation, to look beyond the obvious and to make predictions. It requires discipline and creativity too.”

It sounds interesting, if a little terrifying at times. So, does she get many ideas for stories from her job? “I don’t get many plot ideas from the job because unfortunately real life crime tends to be either very dull or meaningless, with little or no motive, or else it is violent and gruesome and sadistic – and then it becomes morally difficult to fictionalise something that is happening to real people.”

Her first novel, Into the Darkest Corner, which deals with domestic abuse, obsession and OCD, draws on her work generally as opposed to being inspired by one particular story. “When I wrote it, I had been reading a lot of domestic abuse crime reports and although nothing I read directly inspired the story, what I did get from it was the sense that this happens to ordinary people from every social background – and that the reasons why people stay in abusive relationships can be extremely complex. I found it very difficult to write the most harrowing scenes but having built up to it through the course of the book I felt it would be an injustice to turn away at that point. Domestic abuse does happen every day to real people, and if I’m to write about it for what is essentially reading entertainment, I wanted to make sure that people come away with some degree of understanding about how bad it can be.”

“What I do get from the job, however, is an idea of how an investigation might work, where the limitations are and what the procedure would be. The police community has been incredibly supportive of me and I’m very lucky to have a huge network of people who are specialists in one field or another – and always willing to offer expert help for research!”

Access to experts is always a help when researching fiction, but how do co-workers and friends react when they find out that Elizabeth writes crime and suspense thrillers? “Everyone I’ve spoken to about being a writer has been without exception very positive, interested and encouraging. What’s interesting is how people who know me well, friends and family, have reacted after reading my books. Whilst this has also been hugely supportive, I think people are surprised by the violence, the swearing and the sex. I think I come across as quite mild-mannered and they wonder where it all comes from!”

You can visit Elizabeth’s website here. Due to her generosity in taking the time to answer all our questions on suspense writing, this will be a two part blog. In tomorrow’s blog, we ask her hard-won advice for other writers starting out.

Books to blow their socks off at Christmas

While I’m not a fan of starting the festive season too early I realise you can also go the other way and leave it until far too late. This morning I logged into my mail to find not one but eight messages from retailers advising me that the end… I mean Christmas was nigh and I really need to get proper presents right now or I will end up gifting everyone socks due to lack of other options. Again.

So – with my apologies to those of you who were hoping to get socks for Christmas – here are a few bookish recommendations for those hard to gift people you haven’t found something special for. These books are all recent publications so you don’t need to worry that the recipients have had them on their shelves for the last 5 years or worse, that you already bought it for them last year.

What do you buy the globe-trotting style queen who has everything (but especially has socks more stylish than any you could ever find them)? Normally they can be a bit of a nightmare to find something for but the recently released Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Paris, New York, London and Rome might be just be the perfect fit; compact, chic, full of style tips and illustrations, and elegantly presented in red linen. Even if they can’t afford to go traveling right now this is a book to treasure and that cute cover has a practical side; this guide can take a beating in their bag and still be looking stylish when they finally get around to taking it on their sartorial world tour.

For those who would prefer someone else do the traveling for them, motorbike aficionados or lovers of comedy with a serious slant, Billy Connolly’s Route 66 might be just the ticket. Starting in Chicago, Billy takes his trike (a 2011 Boom Lowrider Muscle, if you are wondering) on the ultimate American roadtrip along all 2,488 miles of this iconic road, through the Wild West of Oklahoma and Texas, past the Grand Canyon and deserts of New Mexico and on out to the beaches of the Pacific and Santa Monica. Route 66 is a travelogue and an exploration of American culture and history, all told with Billy’s eye for the absurd and his legendary sense of humour.

If you’d like to keep the gifts a bit closer to home, Underbelly – Razor is set right here in Australia and perfect for the crime fan in your life. Giving them books on murder is always a little off at Christmas but this year you can say that the dirty deeds aren’t gratuitous, they are historical. This  TV tie-in examines the bloody history of the 1920s and ’30s in inner Sydney when, after the New South Wales State Parliament imposed severe penalties for carrying concealed guns, Sydney’s gangs tooks razors as their preferred weapons – chosen for their capacity to inflict disfiguring scars. Underbelly – Razor revolves around the feud of two of Sydney vice queens, brothel madam Tilly Devine and sky grog queen Kate Leigh, and contains enough blood, guts and grisly murders to get readers through even the most saccharine of the Santa season.

And, just in case none of these appeal for your nearest, dearest and most awkward, when all else fails remember that a gift vouchers are an excellent alternative to socks or pot pourri. Unless, of course, that is what they want.