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The Other Side of the Door by Nicci French

I was intrigued by the premise of this book – why would a girlfriend who presumably did not kill her boyfriend but did find his body risk being accused of his murder by cleaning up after the unknown killer?

The first chapter was beautifully delivered and I was loving the disembodied 1st person POV, the careful, almost guilty behaviour she preforms as if another version of herself has committed the crime – but then the Before and After sections did throw me off a little. I was in too many places at once and never in one long enough to find my feet. Several pages in and I know more about the woman who wedding they’re playing than the protagonist or the victim.

However, as the book finds its pace and the distance between the timeframes closes, and the personalities and dynamics come out, everything becomes much more fluid. There’s a lot of tension and the old Prisoner’s Dilemma feeling of who will rat out who and questions of loyalties.

I think this is a re-release or at least a change of title. I’m assuming this because the book feels a tiny bit dated. In the first chapter the protagonist is removing evidence from the scene of the crime – a CD of Garth Brooks! But still, it’s a great read – know the first few jumpy chapters will past and enjoy the main body of the book and a cracking ending.

Thank you to Netgalley, Nicci French and William Morrow for the review copy.

P.S I’m really looking forward to Nicci French’s newest thriller House of Correction! Look at this lovely cover.

Blood Business (Ikmen Mystery 22) Barbara Nadel

I’m a completely new reader when it comes to Barbara Nadel or the Ikmen Mystery series so I opened this book with no preconceptions or expectationswhich is sometimes the best way to go.

The story, which opens in an Istanbul graveyard during an exhumation, is immediately atmospheric, dripping with family tension, the threat of a grisly discovery and the suggestion of a mystery to be solved. The style, writing and pace of the first chapter also told me straight away I was reading something well crafted from a writer who knows her craft. Nadel writes fluidly and confidently and it was only afterwards I realised this is book 22! So no wonder really.

The point of view changes quite quickly and then again – as a new reader I was wrong footed here and started to panic a bit about the list of Turkish names at the front of the book, worried I’d have to memorize them all – an their nicknames but after a few switches I realised Nadel writes every character distinctly so even without their names in my head, I recognise who’s on stage.

That said, I did need to exercise patience, once the mystery has been introduced, the missing body of a rich woman replaced with that of a organ theft victim, retired inspector Çetin Ikmen doesn’t rush to uncover the mystery. Like Morse, he’s a thinker and a tinkerer, who takes time to drink tea and meet friends as he winds his way through the city. And this is where the book’s charm lies. One question leads to another in a surprisingly realistic way. I sometimes find story lines incredulous – jammed together to meet the plot points – but this ‘twist’ and the the eventual dark resolution make sense.

In short, this is a well written, interesting and satisfying read but isn’t a novel for a reader with a short attention span. It’s not the kind of book you could easily read while being jostled about on the Tube, but would be better enjoyed on a Turkish beach holiday (next year perhaps) failing that on the couch or as a bedside table book.

Thanks to Babara Nadel and Headline for a complimentary copy of Blood Business.

4 Books That Made Lockdown Bearable

Apparently we were all reading more during lockdown…. Which is odd because everywhere I looked friends were telling me they couldn’t get into their books. And I have to admit, I had the same problem. My TBR pile got smaller but a lot of those books got tossed (sorry Netgalley). My patience and concentration was just rock bottom. However, I did discover 4 new books in this time. These books had me hooked and made me eager for bedtime! So no reviews (don’t want to spoil anything. This post is just a big thank you to them for making those weird months bearable. xxx

The Family Upstairs Lisa Jewel

AKA inherit a house and find out stuff you really didn’t know you didn’t want to know.

“It all happened so slowly, yet so extraordinarily quickly, the change to our parents, to our home, to our lives after they arrived. But that first night, when Birdie appeared on our front step with two large suitcases and a cat in a wicker box, we could never have guessed the impact she would have, the other people she would bring into our lives, that it would all end the way it did. We thought she had just come to stay for the weekend.”

Rules for Perfect Murders Peter Swanson

AKA Write a blog about crime books and then find out someone’s using it as a playlist.

“Books are time travel. True readers all know this. But books don’t just take you back to the time in which they were written; they can take you back to different versions of yourself.”

A Talent for Murder Andrew Wilson

AKA Agatha Christie but not Agatha Christie

“You, Mrs. Christie, are going to commit a murder. But, before then, you are going to disappear.”

My Sister the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite

AKA It’s your sister and she kills men but blood is thicker than water

She killed him on the first strike, a jab straight to the heart. But then she stabbed him twice more to be sure. He sank to the floor. She could hear her own breathing and nothing else.

That’s it. Thank you all for being really good reads.

Should I do an MA in creative writing?

So this is the first post from me in a long while. The reason is I’ve been doing a 2-year, ‘low-res’ Masters in Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia and alongside other writing jobs have had zero time to post. Now that I’m about to submit my manuscript (Yay!), I finally have enough time to reflect on the experience and answer the big question, was it worth it?

It was a question I was asking myself three years ago because although the thought was appealing, it is a large chunk of cash and I know a lot of people who’ve been on a Creative Writing MA and are still stuck with rejection letters from agents and publishers. I googled the answer myself and got a mixed bag of reactions which can be boiled down into two camps: the idea that you’re only doing the MA because you don’t know what to do with your life and presumably you’re getting parental funding for it as ‘career development’, and the other side which runs on the mantra ‘you can’t teach creative writing’ so why bother? Basically, there weren’t any particularly positive responses that I could see, but despite this, I really wanted to do it. And I did.

So after completing the course, I have my answer prepared. Was it worth it? Yes.

Should you do a creative writing MA? Well now. That depends.

There are lots of things to consider, price, course, your expectations etc. (I’ll go into detail on these in the next post), but there’s also your current writing ability and your willingness to take direction and criticism from a tutor and your peers. But why would you do a creative writing MA if you weren’t looking for those things? You’d be surprised.

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I’m a busy woman. I’ve pumpkins to look at.

The reason you’re here…
In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lammot talks about running a creative writing class. The student comes, he hands in his manuscript and he expects the tutor to gasp in amazement. “It’s perfect, I’ll take it straight to my publisher!” (I’m paraphrasing). That obviously doesn’t happen, he gets critiqued and doesn’t like it. He never comes back. With that in mind, if you’re considering a creative writing MA you should ask yourself, ‘have I come as far as I can with developing my craft, style and voice on my own?’ If the answer is yes, do the MA but make sure you’re being truthful with yourself and here’s why.

The MA in Creative Writing I was on is the Crime Fiction one at UEA. It does cover some standard elements of creative writing such as plot, story, character, setting, pace etc. but it’s mainly a writing course for people who already know how to write and I assume the same is true of other Masters. From class one, you’re writing and critiquing each other’s work and to get the best out of this opportunity, you need to be as good as you can get otherwise it’s a waste of your time, money, effort…
As a comparison, imagine an editor offered to give feedback on your manuscript once, but only once. Would you send in the first draft? I wouldn’t because they’d just work over the mistakes I could have caught on my second draft. The same is true of a creative writing MA. You’re only going to do it once, make sure you’ve already brought yourself as far along as you possibly can.

Thanks for reading.
Next time, I’ll go in-depth into the MA in Crime Fiction at UEA.

Who is Elka Ray?

Elka Ray is the Canadian author of Divorce is Murder.

Born in the UK and raised in Canada, Elka has two previous novels, Saigon Dark and Hanoi Jane; a short-story collection, What You Don’t Know; and a series of children’s picture books about Vietnam, where she currently lives with her family.
Elka grew up in Victoria, B.C. Canada, the setting for her latest mystery. The she’s not writing, drawing, or reading, Elka is in the ocean.

Elka 2018 author pic

DIVORCE IS MURDER – Elka Ray

I’m really excited about the new Elka Ray out August 20th. A couple of years back I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of her Saigon Dark which was a gripping, classic noir with a really modern, domestic theme. So fingers crossed this one is just as good.

I got the blurb today to share with you and once I get a AC of Divorce is Murder, I’ll let you know what I think.

So here’s what we know so far…..

DIVORCE IS MURDER

A Toby Wong Novel

 

Toby Wong visits her quiet hometown in British Columbia, where nothing ever happens–until her old high school rival is found murdered.

Shortly after returning to her sleepy hometown on Vancouver Island, Chinese-Canadian divorce lawyer Toby Wong runs into Josh Barton, who broke her heart as a teen at summer camp. Now a wealthy entrepreneur, Josh wants to divorce Tonya, the mean girl who made Toby’s life hell all those years ago. Not long after Toby takes Josh’s case, Tonya is found murdered. Josh is the prime suspect.

Together with her fortune-teller mom and her pregnant best friend, Toby sets out to clear Josh, whom she still has a guilty crush on. While he seems equally smitten, can Toby trust him? The handsome cop charged with finding Tonya’s killer doesn’t think so.

Since Tonya stayed in touch with everyone from that lousy summer camp, Toby keeps running into ex-campers she’d rather forget. Could one of Tonya’s catty friends be her killer?

Are Toby’s old insecurities making her paranoid? Only too late does she realize that she really is in danger.

 

DIVORCE IS MURDER

Seventh Street Books — August 20, 2019

 

The Art of Deception by Louise Mangos

Okay, I often find it funny how the crime fiction publishers choose to market a book – basically to reach as many readers as possible (hey, no complaints there), but this often leads to a description which just doesn’t do the book justice. This is certainly the case with The Art of Deception by Louise Mangos.

So here’s the blurb:

Art college dropout Lucie arrives in a Swiss ski resort looking for work – but instead finds Mathieu.

Handsome, charismatic and from a good family, Matt seems like the perfect man. But as Lucie soon discovers, he has a dark side – one that will drive their relationship to a dramatic conclusion, and tear the life she has built for herself and their son apart.

Left fighting for her freedom in a foreign prison, and starting to lose her grip on reality, Lucie must summon all of her strength to uncover the truth and be reunited with her son before it’s too late.

The clock is ticking . . . but who can she trust?

Honestly – that sounds like a typical run of the mill crime fiction title which so many writers are churning out faster than you can say, “Should we make the title yellow or orange?” But this book is much better than that.

First of all, it’s two stories in one – the experiences of a young mum in a foreign prison, her day to day incidents and the drama between the inmates she’s doing time with. This is the story in which we find out ‘the truth’, however, when we first start reading, it’s the back story which is the most riveting – that of a teenager meeting a dangerously handsome ski instructor (yes that’s a bit Mills and Boony) and the minutiae and drama of their everyday domesticity.

Yes, this kind of split time is nothing new, but the way Louise Mangos handles it is well thought out and brilliantly paced. Through the most innocent of prison activities the protagonist Lucie finds out a significant secret (no spoilers) which could change her destiny.

As Lucie is in prison and is reflecting on what got her put away, it may seem obvious that she will (must!) find a way out – but this could have been easily (and disappointingly) accomplished by bringing in a new inmate to provide the details (as they tend to do in Orange is the New Black). But let’s just say – that doesn’t happen.

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The end result is a very satisfying crime fiction read, which ties up all the strings and doesn’t offer a fashionably explosive ending. Now, if it said that in the blurb, not many people would pick up the book. Everyone’s looking for a page-turner. But if you speed-read this book, skipping descriptions to get to the dialogue, you’ll be missing out. The pleasure of this crime novel is that it’s a real story (not true obvs) but it reads like a considered work, well researched, written by an author with respect for her characters. I really enjoyed it.

The Art of Deception is out 6th June 2019 with HQ Digital

Can a fiction writer still be a private person?

Patricia Highsmith is quoted as saying – and I paraphrase heavily, that every writer is a very private person, that to talk about one’s self is to a writer like standing naked in front of an audience.

This is a statement I can identify with. While it is obvious not all people who write feel this way, (hello conference talks, Facebook, twitter) many do and plenty of non-writers do too. Maybe it’s just that old high-school psychology definition of introversion but I find that too simplistic, it misses the point.GOPR0613

To have to talk about yourself can be for some very cruel and even once you have mastered not talking about yourself, you will find the problem is still there when people ask you questions.

And when you write, people ask you questions about your work and yourself – all the time.

Just don’t ask!

There is sometimes a strange and instant repulsion that comes from a question. I don’t mean the type that comes from the stranger who stops you in the street to ask where the market is or even those direct questions from your boss about your views on obesity or global warming, the ones that seem to silence the entire room and send the wall spinning off into space. Chilling questions can be inconspicuous to most, simple small talk that can just as easily come from a stranger standing next to you at a wedding who asks you if you don’t find the church beautiful.unknown

Of course we all know about ‘loaded questions’, the ones that back you into a fight, the “You don’t love me” statements. I have one particular friend who I am often very fond of who occasionally asks me a question it seems just to try and interrogate me about my answer. She simply cannot accept that we have different opinions on the fundamentals of life and half an hour in her company leaves me racked and comatose on the sofa

So when you write something that might be interesting to yourself or others, you do so by uncovering an idea that is not explored in everyday life. It can be about an everyday subject; child rearing, food preferences, crossing the street but to make it interesting it has to explore an element of this activity that is novel or not immediately obvious.

Do you have anything interesting to say?

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A lot of people, who try to do this, simply can’t. It’s not that they are not creative (I know a lot of very creative scientists and designers who can’t find an interesting thing to say about their day if their lives depended on it) but they lack that certain awareness of the other person’s perspective, the outside view that tells them, this is me- and where I finish something else begins that is not me and what ever words come out of my mouth or fingers will be perceived by the other side completely outside of my control and computed and stored. For me, it is seeing that gap, be it a millimeter or the breadth of a continent that gives you a creative perspective and also the adamant desire for privacy.

For example, I sat in on a creative writing class with a group of students who were asked to write a short story about something that would happen everyday in London, – to write without editing if possible.

One girl wrote about someone finding out she was adopted through a long and winding tale that lead to someone simply telling her. One had a double suicide ending on the big wheel while cameras rolled. One was about a bomb at the Olympic development site.bustour-1000x659

There was no angle, no feelings or positions on any subject offered. When I thought later about this, I wondered if these people were actually too afraid to just tell a story from their point of view. What if instead of telling the double suicide story, you had someone see it and think it was an act of fame-hunger? Well the rest of the class would judge you. They would look at you and think – right, I know something about that person’s insides, about their personality and attitude to suicide- and as they say “Knowledge is Power” and power if a finite attribute that by definition, we can’t all have.

In the end if you can imagine enough to write something interesting containing the thoughts of someone who isn’t you, you can also imagine what other people think of you after they read it.

With the earlier example of the fellow guest at the wedding in the church, if you take the easy route to this question “Isn’t it a beautiful church” and say “Yes. Very beautiful.” You may be (white) lying and if the conversation continues, if the person digs further this may be reveled and you will then become “dishonest”.

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If you tell the truth, that churches, with their over use of gold and violent imagery remind you of all the oppression and thievery of religion, and make you question how anyone could ever consider celebrating a marriage in one, you will be considered rude and possibly insane. Even though the guest may not reply to that answer, you will not be able to block out the thoughts going through her head as they are portrayed in your own.

Let’s talk about Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith wrote about private people with secrets and she played with the attribute of power freely, moving it sharply between her subjects. The people with the most privacy were gifted the most power, and concurrently if the privacy was removed, the power slipped.

In the Talented Mr Ripley, Tom moves quickly through conditions of privacy, first he is living in an apartment with a man who he hopes won’t come home – as the offer comes to travel on the Greenfield account, he hopes this flat mate doesn’t come home before he leaves so he doesn’t have to tell him about his trip. This privacy gives his the advantage. He loses power sharply when he is caught playing in Dickie’s room and after he assumes Dickie’s identity, allowing him complete privacy for Tom, Tom becomes the most powerful character in the book.Pathigh

Similarly in Sweet Sickness, David has a beautiful house where he lives part-time as the character Neumeister, stalking and obsessing over Annabelle who is married to someone else. He is powerful enough to be able to rely on others not voicing their suspicions after her husband dies but once he tries to ‘come clean’, buys a house in his own name and have a relationship with Annabelle, he is open and vulnerable. Everything unravels.

So how can someone who writes mediate this gap between the Self and the outside world when the essence of creating something interesting requires that the self be exposed and privacy be abandoned and if this is so, how can one possibly write without absolute privacy?

If anyone knows the answer to this…

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self – Cyril Connolly (1903 – 1974)

Strangers on a Bridge – Louise Mangos

Strangers on a Bridge, is Louise Mangos’ debut novel and quite a stinger. I was attracted to the title right away, yep – it has that Patricia Highsmith tone to it, so I had to check it out!

The premise is great – Alice Reed while taking her early morning run in a beautiful Swiss location, talks a man down from the edge… but should she have saved him?

It feeds into all our fears of helping people – that we’ll somehow become entwined in their lives if we do. The premise of Choke by Chuck Palahniuk is exactly that – the protagonist pretends to choke, someone saves his life, he milks them for cash for the rest of their lives!

So I won’t give away any spoilers – enough to say. The book delivers.

The tension builds, turning to frustration and fear until we find out how she will resolve the situation.

If you enjoy the books by Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell and Peter Swanson you’ll like this one.

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The Blurb…..

When Alice Reed goes on her regular morning jog in the peaceful Swiss Alps, she doesn’t expect to save a man from suicide. But she does. And it is her first mistake.

Adamant they have an instant connection, Manfred’s charming exterior grows darker and his obsession with Alice grows stronger.

In a country far from home, where the police don’t believe her, the locals don’t trust her and even her husband questions the truth about Manfred, Alice has nowhere to turn.

To what lengths will Alice go to protect herself and her family?

Publisher: HQ Digital

Publication date: 6th July 2018

Print length: 384 pages

 

Tricks of the Trade: An interview with Euan B. Pollock

LP: So Euan, where did the idea for this story come from?

EBP: My inspiration to write Tricks of the Trade came from spotting a way a locked room mystery could be done which at least I hadn’t seen before. I’ve always read and enjoyed murder-mysteries, trying to untangle the various clues throughout the novel and see which ones are red herrings and which point towards what actually took place. And having found, I think, a straightforward yet puzzling method of committing a crime, I decided to write my very own murder-mystery novel.

LP: Where do you find inspiration?

EBP: As for inspiration to write in general, I’ve always been writing, since I was very young (my mum apparently has some stories I wrote when I was six. Full of dragons, wizards and spelling errors…). Even the career I chose reflected that. I studied to become a lawyer and practised for about 8 and a half years, in Scotland and abroad, and that involved a lot of writing. In December last year I finished work on a big case, and had a three month break (I hadn’t had a holiday in quite a while). I went to El Salvador to house-sit for a friend. Without anything concrete to do, and having just come from working long, long days, I decided to try my hand at writing a book. Tricks of the Trade was the result.

LP: Does the book have a theme?

EBP: While it’s a classic murder-mystery, I’ve also tried to deal with an issue close to my heart, concerning masculinity. My main character, and narrator, is in essence a young male, living through all the inward doubts and questions and outward expressions of confidence that come with that. I’m currently writing the second book in this series (they’ll all be murder-mysteries) and it’s a theme I’m looking to expand on.

Check it out here….

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