Exquisite – Sarah Stovell

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.

Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.
When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops… Or does it?

So, what can we say about Exquisite? Well, for starters I read it in a day, in pretty much one sitting. I’d picked up a sampler from Karen at the Orenda Roadshow in Leeds, a tantalising glimpse to whet the appetite.

Having read the full book now, I can happily report that it does not disappoint. Exquisite is an utterly compelling domestic noir of a burgeoning friendship which takes a rather ominous turn following a writers’ retreat in Northumberland.

Told from the viewpoints of Bo Luxton, a well-established author, and Alice Dark, a young woman with dreams of becoming a writer, the two start exchanging emails following the retreat and soon become friends. Bo’s life appears to be idyllic – a gorgeous writing retreat in the Lake District, a successful writing career, a happy family. But is there something deeper, something more… sinister going on? By contrast, Alice Dark is young, a fresh-faced wannabe writer, keen to learn everything she can from her mentor.

The characters are fascinating, the scenery gorgeous, and the sense of something slightly off becomes more and more unsettling as the novel continues to grow. Shifting viewpoints tell each side of the story and gradually unravel the truth. Or do they? The concept of the unreliable narrator is familiar (and great fun), but having two people tell the same events with their own slant on what happens is unusual. It works remarkably well.

Exquisite, by Sarah Stovell is published by Orenda Books, and is available now. You can find Sarah Stovell on twitter @sarahlovescrime. Many thanks to Karen at @OrendaBooks for the review copy.

The Mayfly – James Hazel

The Mayfly by James Hazel is the first in what I’m sure will be a long-running series featuring ex-detective turned lawyer, Charlie Priest. Charlie has… issues (as all good protagonists do), but in this case they’re rather more interesting than most. He’s approached by Kenneth Ellinder, a wealthy entrepreneur, to investigate the murder of his son, Miles.

Oh, and what a murder it is. You’ll need a strong stomach for this one! Charlie and his team investigate, albeit reluctantly at first, and are swiftly drawn into a mystery dating back to the World War II and the interrogation of a Nazi surgeon. The story is interspersed with flashbacks to the questioning, and I really liked how this tied back into the story. I’d have loved to find out a little more about Colonel Ruck around that time. Perhaps a spin-off series…?

The Mayfly is a cracking psychological mystery. I loved the character of Charlie Priest – despite initial worries that he was going to be a yet another cookie-cutter ex-policeman-turned-lawyer (personal issues: check, family issues: check), he quickly grew on me with his quick thinking, smart wit and sense of humour. The plot hums along at quite a pace, sagging only slightly in the final third – there’s a romantic element which I felt kind of got in the way of the main narrative a little, but that’s more my personal preference than anything else. The supporting cast are also great – Georgie and Okoro fill out the gang nicely (more of Mr Okoro please) and Charlie’s family… well, I’ll let you find out more about them.

A sharply told tale – I look forward to seeing what Mr Priest gets up to next.

The Mayfly by James Hazel is published by @BonnierZaffre and is out now. You can find James Hazel on twitter @JamesHazelBooks

It’s happening again.

A mutilated body discovered in the woods.
A murderous plan conceived in the past.
A reckoning seventy years in the making . . .

Charlie Priest, ex-detective inspector turned London lawyer, is hired by influential entrepreneur Kenneth Ellinder to investigate the murder of his son. But Priest is no ordinary lawyer. Brilliant, yet flawed, this case will push him, and those closest to him, to the edge.

Priest traces the evidence back to the desperate last days of the Second World War. Buried in the ashes of the Holocaust is a secret so deadly its poison threatens to destroy the very heart of the establishment.
With more victims going missing, Priest realises that not everyone should be trusted. As he races to uncover the truth, can he prevent history from repeating itself?

Strange Practice – Vivian Shaw

Meet Greta Helsing, fast-talking doctor to the undead. Keeping the supernatural community not-alive and well in London has been her family’s specialty for generations.

Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood.

Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

Meet Dr Greta Helsing, medic to the… differently alive residents of London. She looks after the capital’s supernatural inhabitants, be they vampire or vampyre (and yes, there is a difference!), ghoul, mummy or demon. The trouble is, someone is going around killing people. And that simply will not do. Dr Helsing (her family dropped the ‘van’ many years ago) must join forces with some of her patients to sort it all out.

What a splendid adventure this is – Dr Greta Helsing is a brilliant character, world-weary doctor on-call at all hours, sorting out the ills of the undead and trying to run her Harley Street practice without drawing too much (or any) attention to her patients from the living world.

The monks are delightfully evil and horribly focused on the job in hand. The underlying mystery is nicely twisty, and Dr Helsing has a splendidly quirky coterie of undead friends to aid her on her quest – Fastitocolon and Ruthven were particular favourites, and not forgetting Sir Francis. Of the supporting characters, I’d love to find out more about Anna and Dez, Greta’s helpers in her rather peculiar practice. Here’s hoping they’ll all be back for book 2 in what promises to be a splendid new urban fantasy series.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw will be published on July 25th 2017 by Orbit. You can find Vivian on twitter @ceruleancynic. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy (and the sweets – she knows the way to a bookblogger’s heart!)

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.