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Blood Notes by Lin Le Versha 

There’s a new boy at the school for gifted musicians in Suffolk, Edmund, the small, quiet, home schooled cello prodigy. 

Everybody’s very excited to have him there, not least the boy himself who’s finally getting to taste a little of the real teenage life which has been denied him for so long. Harriet, his teacher is keen to take him under her wing too, to bring him on, while Edmund’s mother Imogen is a little less keen on this new relationship. But what about Justine, the pretty and talented teenage musician who Edmund will displace at the concert? What does she think about his arrival and what does Edmund think of her, in her emerald green concert dress, her face prickled with tears?

These are the questions asked by Steph Grant, an ex-copper, now school administrator who just happens to be starting at the college at the same time as Justine’s body is discovered slumped over the piano. 

Who did it? Who wanted her dead and why?

Steph’s old boss Hale is the investigating officer, but ropes Steph in to help. With her ability to ask the right questions, peek around the right doors and listen into the right conversations she’s best placed to investigate. But as the danger mounts, so do the bodies and Steph finds herself in a race against time to find out who is killing off Edmund’s rivals. 

She knows a lot but what doesn’t she know?

Thanks to Edmund’s budding interest in composing, not just music but also his autobiography, the reader is privy to the fascinating interiority of the teenage boy. Think, less Adrian Mole, more American Giglio! 

If Steph only knew!

Will she get her hands on the information in time?

You’ll have to read it to find out.

This is Lin Le Versha’s debut novel, but you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s an old hand at this. She’s devised a clever story, full of intrigue, with well-developed characters, some of whom you’ll love to hate and a very believable school environment, full of the petty competitiveness, the ineffective self-important types, plus a murderer! It’s cosy but not too cosy. 

But most importantly, Le Versha’s has found an ingenious and entertaining way to tell the story, the two points of view between Steph and Edmund, create a real puzzle for the reader to devour, like a cunning Venn Diagram, where the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and it will keep you guessing and gasping till the very end. 

ARC copy of ‘Blood Notes’ by Lin Le Versha received from Hobeck Books in return for my honest review. 

Follow Lin on Twitter!

Get your copy at Waterstones!

Fairest Creatures Karen Taylor

Fairest Creatures is a clever but terrifying thriller that pits the wits of a serial killer against the detective in a classic race against the clock fashion.

Set in Cornwall, this story picks up right where the action is, namely, as a victim in the hands of a perverse serial killer. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but in this almost civilized kidnapping, albeit it one in which the victim sits in a leather choker with a gag in her mouth, the threat of violence is everywhere.

And why not, when a hand has recently been found, severed in a glass box, between the roots of a tree, suggesting to DI Brandon Hammett that an old serial killer, the Sleeping Beauty Killer, is back on the scene.

It’s been 23 years since the Sleeping Beauty Killer’s first victim, but he was never caught and it seems that just when everyone has let their guard down and hoped he’d just disappeared, he’s returned.

But the case gets stranger and things aren’t as straightforward as they may seem. It’s not just the hand, but an ear too, and a conch shell. An old-timer in the force remembers the killings the first time around and these aren’t quite the same. The timing is off, the appearance of the hand is too soon. And what else is wrong? What’s really going on here?

Karen Taylor weaves a clever tale here, showing us the story from the perspective of the victims in the killer’s clutches and from the DI investigating, dropping small, well-timed hints as she goes without giving the game away too soon. It’s the story of a crime, and an investigation, but also one of friendships, relationships and power and control. Well-handled and well done. It’s well-plotted, well-timed and very suspenseful.

A big thank you to Karen Taylor and Peter Burnett at Leamington Books for the ARC!

Follow Karen on Twitter!

Get it at Waterstones!

My Lovely Wife.

Samantha Downing 

A crime thriller of crime thriller writers!

Soooo… I’ve just discovered Samantha Downing. (Where has she been hiding herself away all these years? I honestly don’t know why Twitter didn’t tell me about her) And my first Downing was My Beautiful Wife, which was just brilliant. 

It’s a story told from the husband’s perspective about being in a co-dependent serial killer relationship. Cute eh? He does the sourcing and his wife does the killing and most of the action and suspense comes from their obsession (or hobby) depending how you look at it and how this fits in with family life, (they have two teenage kids) and their careers. This idea in itself is a lot of fun to play with. As so many people have said, it’s got the Dexter vibe to it and Downing does a really good job of drip feeding the motivation into the present drama via backstory flashbacks which screams out for a movie version.

But of course, this is just the set up. Where most books conclude, this book begins and I think that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s not just Dexter meets Mr and Mrs Smith, it’s what do you do when your twisted fantasies and lifestyle start having a negative effect on your kids? When you start something, how are you going to end it? That’s the real gem of the book. But then there’s more.

This book is unique in many ways, the reason being, Downing has picked a very tricky story to tell that most commercial writers would give up trying to shape in favour of something more straight-forward.

How to make the first chapter interesting and hooky without giving anything away?

Check!

How to explain motivation while also moving the story forward.

Check.  

In short, it was a great read and I’m proud to say I paid for it myself and you can get it at Waterstones.

Hunted by Antony Dunford

The brilliant debut action adventure thriller by Antony Dunford, shortlisted for the 2019 UEA Crime Writing Prize and longlisted for the 2020 Grindstone Literary Novel prize

This novel opens with an extraordinary (but ordinary to her) evening in the life of Jane Haven, an ex-special forces soldier who has come to Kenya to help her brother Ken guard Northern White rhinos on a conservatory. The first few pages delve into the atmosphere within the fences as well as the wider Kenyan culture and Jane’s character. It does this so well that reading along, I really wasn’t thinking much about what might come next, I was just enjoying the story. It could have been a romance novel and I wouldn’t have cared! 

But then, slowly, you get the creeping feeling that there’s danger here, a drone being used to scan the perimeter, a still smoking fire where no one should be, and Jane’s growing vigilance. Then just as it seems as if this is all for show the story explodes wide open. 

Without giving too much away, there’s murder, mystery and injustice but also the peril of Jane being a suspect to a crime the reader knows she didn’t commit. 

To solve the crime, save herself and make sure the culprits are apprehended Jane takes off as both the detective and the defendant. Having the hero be a white woman in Kenya could be a call fraught with cringeworthy moments but the author pulls it off sensitively giving agency to both Jane and the people she pursues. 

On her mission, the author takes us through a twisting maze of possibilities and leads, but where this book stands out as different from other crimes novels is the way the author has so expertly woven together the conclusion to fit the eco-thriller genre. It could have been a simple murder mystery set in Kenya, but the ending is both pragmatic and insightful. 

Towards the end, I was getting the same kind of feels as I had at the end of the Constant Gardener. It’s a sad story about the unfairness of the world and the selfishness that propagates this. It’s also about how a sense of entitlement can have huge repercussions on the environment and the people who live in it, namely us.

Finishing the book, three things stuck out in my mind – firstly, this would make a great audio book, the writing is well paced and feels made to be read aloud. Secondly, the characters in the story are not just the humans, the animals are also portrayed to show their individual characteristics which will make any reader care about their fate just as much as the humans, if not more. Lastly, as I already mentioned the story is a perfect example of what an eco-thriller can be. Yes, it’s exciting to read but also persuasive and enlightening. I seriously know nothing about Kenya or poaching or conservatories, but I feel like I have a better insight now. 

Thanks to the author and Hobeck Books for an advance copy of this brilliant read! 

Available for Kindle and as a paperback

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