The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice – Chris Ewan

Charlie Howard, gentleman thief and famous crime-writer, has gone straight. But holing himself up in a crumbling palazzo in Venice in an attempt to concentrate on his next novel hasn’t got rid of the itch in his fingers. And to make matters worse, a striking Italian beauty has just broken into his apartment and made off with his most prized possession, leaving a puzzling calling card in its place.
It looks as though kicking the habit of a lifetime will be much more of a challenge than Charlie thought.
Sneaking out into Venice’s maze of murky canals, Charlie’s attempts to tame a cat burglar embroil him in a plot that is far bigger and more explosive than he could ever have imagined.

Let me start off with this – I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Ewans’s ‘Good Thief’s Guide to…’ books since the very first. So I jumped at the chance to read Venice and write up something for the relaunch of the series in their snazzy new covers!

Charlie Howard is a thief, and a darn good one at that. He’s had a number of adventures, from <a href=”http://amzn.to/2svMQQF”(hijinks involving stolen monkey figurines and a damsel in distress), to Paris (oil painting hijinks) and Vegas (more hijinks involving magic, a dead redhead and a casino heist). He’s also an author, writing a series of suspense novels about a gentleman thief called Michael Faulks. Who better to write a thief than another thief?

The books are sheer, glorious fun. Charlie Howard is a fantastic character with a nice line in inner monologue to go with his safe-cracking, lock-picking and general hijink-having abilities!

In Venice, Charlie has taken a bit of time off from nicking stuff to concentrate on his latest novel in Venice. Holed up with his erstwhile editor and friend Victoria, all is going well until a stunning catburglar breaks in and steals his beloved (though stolen, of course) good luck charm – a signed first edition of The Maltese Falcon.

Hijinks ensue, naturally, as Charlie is forced to put his writing plans on hold whilst he goes on the hunt for his missing book. And just who is that mysterious woman…?

Enormous fun – if you’re looking for a witty, fast-paced, high-concept, high-action thriller, then Mr Ewan is your man, and his ‘Good Thief’s Guide’ books should be on your list. And they’ve got some lovely new covers too! They’re available individually, or you can pick up the set on kindle here.

Many thanks to Chris Ewan for sending me a copy of The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice. You can find Chris on Twitter at @ChrisEwan

Right, I’m off to read the next one – Charlie is off to Berlin, apparently! (thanks to Chris for that one too!)

ou can’t keep a good thief down . . . Charlie Howard is back and robbing the city of Berlin blind, until he witnesses a murder being committed right before his eyes

Charlie Howard, part-time writer, part-time thief, has been engaged in a veritable spree of larceny and misappropriation since moving to Berlin, Germany. He’s supposed to be working on his next novel. But high rent and a love for thrill-seeking has been hard on his word count.

But Charlie’s larcenous binge is interrupted by the call to duty—on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. Four embassy employees are suspected of stealing a sensitive item. Charlie is to break into their homes, find the culprit and recover the stolen property. But there’s a catch. The item is so sensitive, Charlie isn’t told what he’s looking for. Not its size, not its weight, nothing. He’s only told that he’ll recognize it when he sees it.

Charlie has been a successful thief because he follows his own rules, the first being “Don’t get caught.” Well, after he enters the first suspect’s home, he has to add a new rule: “Don’t admire the view.” As Charlie stares across the street, he sees something he really wishes he hadn’t—a woman being murdered. And that’s just for starters. What follows is a wild adventure in the former cauldron of spies.

Sweet Little Lies – a guest post by Caz Frear

Delighted to welcome Caz Frear to the blog today. Caz is the author of Sweet Little Lies (of which more later). First though, she wants to talk about creating Cat Kinsella.

Without further ado, over to you Caz!

DC Cat Kinsella began life as plain old Cat Kinsella. Her earlier incarnation worked in a clothes shop and had both a fiancé and a plucky step-daughter-to-be. On the darker side, she also had a spending habit that masked a deep inner turmoil – a turmoil rooted in the fact that she firmly believed her dad was responsible for the disappearance for a teenage girl from the west coast of Ireland in 1998.

So at least that bit sounds familiar, right?

Cat Kinsella joined the ranks of the Met Police the day I got over my HUGE hang-up about whether it was wise – or even possible – to write a convincing police procedural without one iota of police/judicial experience to my name. It seems ridiculous now but I was genuinely convinced for a long time that you had to be somehow ‘in the know’ to write within the genre and I completely disregarded the fact that I had done nothing but read, write, live and breathe crime fiction since the age of twelve when I first drooled over Prime Suspect. I mean, it’s not as if anyone could have accused me of not being well-schooled!

Thankfully, I got over my hang-up – eventually! After a few dark-ish nights of the soul, I accepted it was plain old fear of failure that was holding me back and lo, Detective Constable Cat Kinsella was born. Cat announced herself quickly as I knew exactly how I wanted her to come across from the off – like so many crime fiction fans, I LOVE a flawed detective, but it was important to me that Cat was flawed but entirely relatable. Someone you might like to go for a pint with. Someone you recognise. Someone who’s messed up on the inside but managing to function normally on the outside, at least most of the time anyway. I think that probably goes for most of us!

It was Ernest Hemingway who said you should create ‘people not characters’ and it’s hands-down the best piece of writing advice I’ve come across (cheers, Ernest!) While it’s so, so important to know both your protagonist’s main purpose and their main stumbling block before putting finger to keyboard, I think these are the things that create ‘character’ and it’s the little things that create people – so knowing what Cat would eat for breakfast, who she’d vote for, her go-to sleeping position, whether she can whistle, where she stands on onesies – you get the drift. With this in mind, before I even started plotting Sweet Little Lies, I wrote out ‘Top 50 Trivial Facts About Cat Kinsella’ and gave myself a mere fifteen minutes to complete. The quicker and more instinctive you are, the better – too much thinking and you end up with a manufactured ‘character’, I think, not a recognisable human being. Now, of course, very few of these facts actually end up featuring in your novel but you’d be surprised how much they inform the bigger decisions your protagonist makes. And at the very least, it’s a really fun way to get to know your new best friend (and make no mistake, your main protagonist does become your best friend – your only friend, in fact, when the deadlines start to loom!)

The first random scene I ever wrote featured Cat squaring up to her Dad in a I-know-what-you-did style denouement (very soap opera!) however, as the plot really started to take shape, I realised it would be far more unsettling if Cat never knew for sure – at least not until much later – exactly what her dad had done, just that he had done something. I loved the idea of them being trapped in this toxic dynamic – Cat never sure just how dangerous he is, and him never sure why she hates him so much. This ambiguity was obviously central to the plot but also central to Cat’s personality as it explains why she finds it so hard to trust, why she doubts every decision she makes, why she looks for validation from older father-and-mother-type figures (in Steele and Parnell) rather than from her immediate peers.

I’m currently working on Cat’s next adventure and it’s such a joy to be staying with her for the long haul. That’s the joy of the series character (or the series ‘person’ if we’re going with Hemingway) – you get to see the long-term effects of what’s gone before, and poor Cat, she really has been put through the ringer in Sweet Little Lies and it’ll no doubt come back to haunt her before long……*she said mysteriously

Thanks Caz. Sweet Little Lies is published by Zaffre and will be out by the end of June. You can find Caz on twitter @CazziF.

What happens when the trust has gone?

Cat Kinsella was always a daddy’s girl. Until the summer of 1998 when she sees her father flirting with seventeen-year-old Maryanne Doyle.

When Maryanne later disappears and Cat’s father denies ever knowing her, Cat’s relationship with him is changed forever.

Eighteen years later, Cat is now a Detective Constable with the Met. Called to the scene of a murder in Islington, she discovers a woman’s body: Alice Lapaine has been found strangled, not far from the pub that Cat’s father runs.

When evidence links Alice to the still missing Maryanne, all Cat’s fears about her father resurface. Could he really be a killer? Determined to confront the past and find out what really happened to Maryanne all those years ago, Cat begins to dig into the case. But the problem with looking into the past is that sometimes you might not like what you find.

Ancient Magic – Meg Cowley & Victoria DeLuis

Can a cursed relic be saved from the clutches of evil before it is used to wreak devastation?
Kukulkan’s Skull should never have existed; nothing more than a legendary relic with the death powers of a god. Deep in the ancient Mexican jungles, it has been found… and stolen.
Zoe Stark, witch and magical relic hunter, must discover who the true enemy is in time to save the skull from being used for great evil.
Time is running out, for the Day of the Dead fast approaches, when the skull will be at the zenith of its devastating power. Zoe finds much more is at stake as she chases a cold trail of murder and magic.
Her own life is in danger as the mastermind behind the theft silences those who get too close, but she cannot give up, for to fail, would be to doom millions of innocent lives.
If Zoe fails, the skull’s first victim will be her…

Rogue Magic is the first in a new series by fantasy authors Meg Cowley and Victoria DeLuis. It’s a short, snappy thrill ride through the jungles of Mexico on the trail of an ancient relic which should never have existed. It’s also great fun – I loved the character of Zoe Stark, who comes across as a mixture of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, but with more sass, a sprinkle of sarcasm and rather more ass-kicking. There’s globe-trotting galore, seedy underworlds, evil villains and, of course, magic… What more could you want?

It’s always refreshing to see a strong female lead, and Zoe Stark is just that – taking no nonsense from anyone (well, maybe apart from her boss, sometimes!). If I had any complaint it was that the book was a little on the short side – it’s an intriguing glimpse into a new magic-infused world – the focus here is firmly on the adventure which zips along at quite a pace, but I want to find out more about the Magicai and Zoe’s next adventures! I’m sure there’ll be plenty of those to come.

Ancient Magic is out now – you can get the ebook or paperback on Amazon. Meg can be found on twitter < href=”https://twitter.com/megcowley”>@megcowley and Victoria is @DeLuisWrites. Go say hello, but go get the book first!

Killing Gravity – Corey J. White

Mariam Xi can kill you with her mind. She escaped the MEPHISTO lab where she was raised as a psychic supersoldier, which left her with terrifying capabilities, a fierce sense of independence, a deficit of trust and an experimental pet named Seven. She’s spent her life on the run, but the boogeymen from her past are catching up with her. An encounter with a bounty hunter has left her hanging helpless in a dying spaceship, dependent on the mercy of strangers.

Penned in on all sides, Mariam chases rumors to find the one who sold her out. To discover the truth and defeat her pursuers, she’ll have to stare into the abyss and find the secrets of her past, her future, and her terrifying potential.

Killing Gravity is a kick-ass, whip-smart sci-fi short story/novella/novellette(?) which is a pure joy to read. It’s short, sharp and stunningly bloody, with a fiercely independent, void-damned spacewitch as the main protagonist. Echoes of Firefly abound, with a close-knit (albeit smaller) crew on a series of adventures as Mariam ‘Mars’ Xi goes on the hunt for vengeance. For such a short book, a *lot* gets crammed into the narrative.

The cast is refreshingly diverse and *interesting*, and it features what Warren Ellis described as ‘a cute space ferret of death’. Tell me you’re not intrigued!

It’s not perfect – for me it’s a little too short, and the action, whilst fantastically realised feels perhaps a tiny bit rushed. I’d have loved to see the story breathe a little more, giving us space to discover more about Squid, Mookie and Trix. That said, this is book 1 in the Voidwitch Saga (and it was only a couple of quid for the ebook), so I’m hopeful that we’ll get some meatier tales!

For those minor niggles (one of which boils down to GIVE ME MORE, DAMNIT), I’m greatly looking forward to reading more from Corey J. White.

Killing Gravity by Corey J. White was published May 9th 2017 by Tor.com. You can find Corey over at his website, coreyjwhite.com or on twitter @cjwhite

I picked this up from a recommendation in Warren Ellis’ excellent email newsletter, Orbital Operations. I’m a sucker for a good email newsletter, and Warren’s is a fine example of the art. You should subscribe. And go follow Morning, Computer while you’re at it.

Age of Assassins – RJ Barker

TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN…

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.

Ah, Girton Club-Foot. A refreshingly different hero, in a splendid coming-of-age tale of assassins set to track down another assassin, with a dash of intrigue, magic, skulduggery and other shenanigans.

I’ll warn you now, this is one of those books that I’ll pester you mercilessly about reading until you finally gave in and read it[1]. You know the ones: Red Rising, Nevernight, Tracer or Kings of the Wyld. The awesome ones.

It’s got everything. Great characters, and more to the point interesting characters doing interesting things[3] that actually make you care about them, a tightly-crafted plot (involving the aforementioned skulduggery[4]) and some quite gloriously gritty worldbuilding.

I’ve read a lot of great books recently, but Age of Assassins shouldered its way in to stand firmly amongst them and will most definitely be on the illustrious[5] Books of 2017 list.

All the more impressive for being a debut – RJ Barker is a talented writer and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

I just hope that he’s writing quickly. Add this book to your list, kids. Or I’ll nag you until you do. You know it makes sense.

Age of Assassins is out in August and is published by Orbit.

Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit Books and RJ Barker for the chance to read an early review copy. You can find RJ over on twitter @dedbutdrmng. He won’t bite[6].

[1] Sorry[2]
[2] Not sorry in the slightest.
[3] and quite often unpleasant
[4] not forgetting the shenanigans. Who doesn’t love shenanigans?
[5] for a given value of ‘illustrious’
[6] probably. Unless you ask him *really* nicely

If We Were Villains – ML Rio

I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for If We Were Villians, by M.L. Rio.

If We Were Villains tells the story of seven students in their final year at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, an exclusive arts school.  The friends find their world rocked by a tragedy one morning, and nothing is ever quite the same again.

Ten years later we meet Oliver Marks, one of the seven, freshly released from prison. He’s met by Detective Colborne, the man who put him away a decade earlier, a man who wants to finally get to the truth…

The story is told from two perspectives – it opens with Oliver and Detective Colborne walking back over the grounds of Dellecher Conservatory to the site of the fateful event, and flashbacks to that final year at school.

I loved If We Were Villains – despite some reservations about the subject matter (I was never particularly into Shakespeare) you can’t help but be drawn into the narrative as the players take the stage and the drama unfolds. The characters are deftly drawn and entirely believable, and their habit of quoting lines from Shakespeare, which I initially found a little distracting (but entirely in character), gives the story extra depth.

There’s an awful lot going on in the book – love, lust, jealousy, tragedy, intrigue, revenge (would you expect anything else from something so Shakespearean?) but the story artfully weaves them together into a web of truths and lies.

If We Were Villains delivered that rare treat of keeping me reading until the early hours of the morning. Definitely one of the ‘just one more chapter’ books! Highly recommended.

The blog tour continues tomorrow. If We Were Villians by M.L. Rio is published by @titanbooks and is out on June 13th. Many thanks to Philippa Ward at Titan Books for the advance copy.

Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.

 

Netherspace- Andrew Lane & Nigel Foster

Delighted to be part of the blog tour for Netherspace, a new collaboration project from Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster. Netherspace is start of a brand new science fiction series in which contact with aliens is only the beginning…

31545613

Contact with alien species was made forty years ago, but communication turned out to be impossible. There is only trade in technology, which allows humans to colonise the stars, but at a heavy cost: alien netherspace drives are exchanged for live humans. When a group of colonists are captured by a group of Cancri aliens, a human mission is sent to negotiate their release. But how can you negotiate when you don’t know what your target wants?

I’ve got an extract from the novel for you today. Enjoy!

~~~

Marc Keislack stared at the spherical display unit. On the other side of the crystalline metal his nanoforms were mixing and interacting like miniature weather systems. Each one was a different colour, separated from one another by a gooey transparent nutrient medium.
Despite the seals around the tank – still necessary when anyone was mucking around with nanoforms – the slightly vinegary smell of the nutrient medium hung in the air of his studio. Light from the large windows at the far end of the room illuminated the space. Dust hung and glittered in the buttresses of light, despite the best attempts of his cleaning bots to eradicate it. Outside, the rolling Welsh hills were illuminated by a low sun. Cows stood in small groups in the field that bounded his property, and larks drew scrolling lines across the deep blue of the sky, while inside the studio he was waiting for his own life – his own artificial life – to decide what it wanted to be. He ran a hand through his long hair. It needed cutting, but he had been so wrapped up in constructing this latest piece of art that he had forgotten about it. He would need to get it cut before the show. His agent, Darla, would insist upon it. “Don’t believe the crap about artists in garrets forgetting to eat or wash and still being romantic,” she’d told him at his last show. “People who can afford your art expect short hair and an expensive cologne. And don’t fall on the vol-au-vents like you’re starving.” She’d paused at that point, then added: “Of course, if there’s an alien in town, wanting to pick up some art in exchange for some new kind of battery or something, then all bets are off.”
“I was followed around by an Eridani for three weeks, remember? It took five art installations, leaving behind something GalDiv took away for deep investigation.” He’d laughed bitterly. “Who knows why the damn aliens trade anything?” He didn’t say – it wasn’t necessary, there were plenty who’d say it for him – that it was the Eridani interest that had made the unknown Marc Keislack rich and famous.
Darla had smiled tightly. “Of course I remember, darling. And I would have gotten you a much better deal – even with an alien.” She didn’t say that being the alien’s darling – the Eridani and more recently the Cancri still traded for his and only his artwork, no other artists need apply – meant that Marc didn’t need an agent at all, only a lawyer and an accountant.
He’d smiled back more gently. “That I would like to have seen.” Keeping alive the polite fiction that Marc Keislack was as talented as any other successful artist and not just a lucky bastard.
Now he glanced around the studio, at the works that were going into the show, which his agent wanted to call simply Here. Across the far side of the room was a tank of seawater in which luminescent Aurelia aurita the size of coins drifted, coming together and apart in a thousand different shades of colour, as dictated by the artificial genes that he had spliced into their DNA. The jellyfish were effectively immortal, as far as he knew. As long as they floated in a nutrient-rich broth and had a little natural light they would just keep on going, moving and glowing, forming different pictures as they did so. Given the human mind’s amazing ability to see patterns in chaos, if you stared into the tank long enough you would start to see faces staring back at you: grimacing, laughing, screaming. Marc had given it the title All Human Life Is Here, and Darla had said that if he parted with it for less than a hundred and fifty thousand virtscrip she would part with him, violently.
His gaze skipped to another piece: this one an earlier, unsold work. It was a self-portrait entitled My Life Is Here. Artificially grown muscle, fat and skin tissue, generated from stem cells taken from Marc’s own bone marrow, had been carefully arranged over a brass skull on a stand inside a transparent case. The flesh had been crafted to mimic his own face, but initially aged a hundred and twenty. The cells had been programmed in such a way that they would gradually alter over time: the skin becoming firmer, the fat reduced and the muscles better defined. His face would get younger as he, the artist, grew older. It had already regressed to the age of 115, although it had to be said that there was very little difference visible between now and when it had started. There would be a day when the two of them – the artwork and the model – would cross, and one of the terms of the sale was that Marc would, on that day, sit inside a similar case next to it, wherever the purchaser was displaying it, making himself part of the work. Another one of the terms of sale was that when the face had developed to infancy the work would be destroyed – a stipulation backed up by automatic cell death programmed into the artwork’s genes. The aliens wouldn’t understand the fine print, of course, but he didn’t care. The art was the art.
“Wonderful,” Darla had said when he had told her about the idea. “A reversed Picture of Dorian Gray reproduced with technology.”
“The what? Who?”
She had glanced at him, frowning. “Never mind. Just keep coming up with ideas.” Marc had no interest in the past, only his own present and future.
A momentary eddy in the tank beside him caught his attention. At the border between the mass of blue nanoforms and the transparent nutrient medium they existed within, small vortices were forming. It looked like the kind of effect one saw at the edge of fractals, or coastlines on a map. The nanoforms themselves were artificial, of course, but based on genetic material harvested from slime moulds of Fuligo septica. Their behaviour was pre-programmed in their simplified DNA and based on a handful of simple rules. Were they surrounded by others of their own colour, or by those of another colour? Were they in an area where nutrients were plentiful or sparse? Were they on the outside of a mass, exposed to ambient light, or on the inside, in darkness? How old were they? The rules themselves were simple, but the outcomes would be anything but. In computer simulations the virtual nanoforms automatically came together in small groups, which acted as individual entities: moving as one, co-operating with others of their kind, absorbing others not of their kind and then producing smaller versions of themselves which grew over time. It was emergent behaviour, not pre-programmed, but it seemed to replicate many of the features of more complicated life forms, all without instinct or intelligence. This one was entitled All Life Is Here, and he was still waiting to see how it developed.

~~~

Netherspace is published by @TitanBooks, and is out now. The blog tour continues tomorrow at Sci-Fi Bulletin.