Monthly Archives: April 2011

BLITZ – by Ken Bruen

Out now from Transworld Ireland.

I love Ken Bruen’s PI Jack Taylor novels – so am pleased to say that the new one, The Devil, is due out in just twelve days time – review to follow on that in the next few days.

In the meantime we have BLITZ – a fast paced, action filled and blazer of a London based crime novel out now in time for the movie adaptation from Lionsgate directed by Eliott Lester (due 20th May) – see pic of Bruen in centre of pic below from the movie set.

If you’re not a fan of Jason ‘The Stath’ Staham and his movies, then don’t let the book jacket put you off, this is a fine read and, having just viewed the movie trailer, I think the film will also have a much wider appeal than the actor’s usual roles too.

It’s a dark tale, but a relatively simple one.

London cops are being killed, initially by gun but, when the killer runs out of ammo, the weapon of choice becomes a hammer.

BLITZ has a whole cast of cops up to no good, whether it be drug taking or unauthorised use of force and sometimes even murder to stop the bad guys on their patch.

Although a Statham vehicle as a movie, this is certainly not a book based just around his character of DS Brant, with many of the other supporting characters having very important and distinctive roles.

They are certainly not a PC bunch of coppers – with racist and homophobic slurs being banded about to their fellow officers and the people they deal with on the London streets abound.  In many ways the team that surround Brant made me think of Stuart MacBride’s novels – these are similarly troubled and messed up cops dealing with crime in sometimes unorthodox ways and means to get the job done.

I particularly enjoyed sequences within the novel where the killer worked on building his part through discussions and suggestions to a local press reporter, even choosing his own moniker for fear he’d be labelled with a press-created one he wouldn’t like.  It’s through this that ‘The Blitz’ (as in Blitzkrieg) creates his identity and I’m really looking forward to seeing those scenes in the forthcoming film.

Bruen is clearly becoming a favourite with movie makers and actors alike.  The recent adaptation of London Boulevard brought Colin Farrell, David Thewlis, Keira Knightley and Ray Winstone to the script.  With BLITZ, we can look forward to Paddy Considine joining Statham as he takes the role of fellow copper Porter Nash, plus the double-whammy bonus of having David Morrissey and Aidan Gillen (both fresh from the excellent Thorne series from Mark Billingham’s books) playing reporter Harold Dunphy and Barry Weiss (aka The Blitz).

If you’ve not had the joy of reading a Ken Bruen novel, then this would be a great place to start – prepare for a fast ride and a book you will devour quickly, leaving you wanting another and very soon.

Keith B Walters

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SATORI – Don Winslow – Out Now – COMPETITION

A little while back I had the opportunity to read Don Winslow’s superb novel SATORI – out now from Headline.

If you missed the review, you can click HERE.

And here’s a brief summary plus news of a great fun contest to win a unique prize courtesy of Headline:

Nicholai Hel — genius, assassin, mystic, master of language and culture, and the world’s most artful lover.  Until now, he has appeared just once in the brilliant and unforgettable Shibumi. Published in 1979, Trevanian’s Shibumi was a landmark bestseller, selling over 2.3 million copies. It is revered by many as one of the greatest thrillers of the 20th century and now Don Winslow returns with the gripping prequel, Satori.

To celebrate the publication of Satori Headline Publishers are offering a rather unusual prize, a copy of Go, the ancient board game which figures prominently in the novel.  Fiendishly difficult (we can’t even figure out the rule book), this game will offer hours of enjoyment – why not play along whilst you read Satori!

A COPY OF SATORI IS ALSO BEING KINDLY THROWN IN WITH THE GAME THANKS TO THOSE LOVELY PEOPLE AT HEADLINE.

Nicholai Hel is the master of the secret martial art of hoda korosu, or naked/kill.  To be in with a chance of winning Go, just let us know what your secret martial arts skill is in under 100 words of less in the comments below.  And for some inspiration, here is Sam Eades from the Headline pr team’s secret martial arts skill:

The “publicity flick” – the ability to disable any assailant in a ten mile radius with a shake of my blonde tresses.


So, let your creative juices flow and have fun coming up with your own secret martial art skill – we look forward to reading your comments and picking a lucky winner to receive the game.

Please leave your email address in the comment box, using ‘AT’ rather than @ to confuse those pesky spambots.

Good luck fellow assassins and warriors.

Keith

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BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by SJ Watson

Published by Doubleday – an imprint of Transworld. £12.99

What to say?  What to add to the enormous praise that has already been given to this fantastic debut novel and its author?

There is a genuine buzz and excitement (all of which is thoroughly deserved) about this release and, put simply, you just MUST read it.  SJ Watson was accepted into the first Faber Academy in 2009 and this is the result of that work – a novel that has won praise and plaudits from across all media and from some of the biggest names in crime fiction.

‘Quite simply the best debut novel I’ve ever read’   TESS GERRITSEN

‘An exceptional thriller’  DENNIS LEHANE

‘A deeply unsettling debut’  VAL McDERMID

The book has already sold in 37 territories worldwide and the movie rights have been snapped up by Scott Free (Ridley & Tony Scott’s film company) with writing and directing due to be undertaken by Rowan Joffe.

If handled well, this could easily be the next Shutter Island or Memento.

A few weeks back I was pleased to receive an advance copy from SJ Watson’s US publishers (Harper) and, only due to the volume of other great books that arrived at the same time, it joined the ‘to be read’ pile on the shelf.

And then….Transworld started to tease me….

A series of three sample chapter booklets started to arrive, each leading further into the story and ending just where the real story begins.

I would have cursed them, but instead I love them for following the third booklet with a swift despatch of the finished novel.  That was it, I was in – in too deep and unable to get back out of the brilliance of the narrative and the mystery.

The first evening I racked up about 85 pages of the book….and then I made a mistake, a big mistake.

I told someone about the book, about the terrifying story of Christine Lucas and her waking to find that she does not recognise herself in the bathroom mirror, doesn’t know the man in her bed is her husband and is certain she should be eighteen years younger than she is.

I told my wife, and worse still I told her just before we were leaving the house to go out.

For the rest of the day, I sat frustrated in the driver’s seat in the heat and traffic of an Easter weekend, whilst from the back seat all I could hear was her whipping through pages of the book with only the occasional gasp of shock at a revelation or twist to the tale.

When we got home, it became a joint activity – both of us sitting side by side racing through the book over the remainder of the weekend, her with the US proof, me with my lovely Hardback UK edition until, sadly she beat me to the end, taking the final twists and turns alone and leaving me in her wake.

It was a lonely last few chapters, but not without interruption as my wife insisted on looking over to see where I was at, each time a knowing grin on her face as though to say ‘oh, you have no idea what’s about to happen next!’

In short, Before I Go to Sleep, was the most enjoyable and thrilling read I have had so far this year – it deals with a terrifying subject, memory and its loss, and whether sometimes it is better to forget things or to not be able to recall details.  The buzz it created in my own household was like nothing I’ve ever experienced (other than the children with the launch of the last book featuring a wizard schoolboy perhaps) and the fact my mother (not usually a crime fan) texted me a few hours ago to let me know that Simon Mayo had just announced on Radio 2 that Before I Go to Sleep is their book club book of the month shows that the appeal is spreading like wildfire.

The way the novel is structured, essentially as journal entries and the altogether terrifying premise can’t help but get its claws into your mind…and then twist.

It will be some time before I can wake in the morning and look towards the bathroom mirror without the nagging doubt that one day I might just not recognise myself.

Thank you SJ Watson  – you have darkened my dreams and clouded my memories.

The book and author are featured on this week’s BBC2 Arts Show Friday 22.00hrs.

You can read more at www.beforeigotosleep.com

Keith B Walters

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Hakan Nesser – Competition winners.

Thanks for the entries to win the sets of signed books by Hakan Nesser.

Competition draw is now closed and I’ll be emailing the winners shortly, so they can email their mailing addresses for the book sets.

Congrats to:

Martyn Lewis, Scaryclaire, Jazzmine, Ben Hunt and Ros Bryan.

Commiserations to anyone that didn’t win this time round – keep dropping by for future prize chances.

Thanks again to Pan Macmillan for providing the great prize sets.

Keith

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Investigative Hearings 2: Steve Mosby

The second in a series of interviews with authors due to appear at this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate.

CASE TWO: Steve Mosby – Author of The Third Person, The Cutting Crew, The 50/50 Killer, Cry for Help, Still Bleeding and new novel Black Flowers.

You have a unique style and voice in the ‘crime’ genre – who inspired your writing in that style and is there one book or author that has influenced you in particular?



Thank you. I suppose it comes from a background of reading and writing all kinds of genres. When I started out, my stuff was rooted in horror and science fiction – very otherworldly and unreal – and the crime aspect crept in over the years. I’ve probably been influenced by everyone I’ve ever read to some extent, but there are a few it’s easy to single out: Stephen King; Dean Koontz; Michael Marshall Smith; Graham Joyce; Jack Ketchum; Jim Crace; Christopher Priest. Probably a hundred others, but I can see the influences there, in terms of prose-style, structures, techniques and so on. None of them are really crime writers, which is a little strange, so I’ll throw in Mo Hayder too. She’s brilliant. And a nod to John Connolly as well.

Now that you are a father, have you noticed any changes to your writing?  Have you detected any changes in your self-censorship levels?



Perhaps, though it’s difficult to say. Even though Black Flowers has its moments, it’s probably my least overtly violent novel, but most of it was conceived before my son was born. The one I’m working on now has some strong scenes in the first draft, but I don’t know what will make it through.

If anything, it’s probably just experience. I never deliberately set out to shock for the sake of it, but looking back, I’ve probably come close. There’s certainly stuff in The Cutting Crew that I wouldn’t do now. It’s not so much self-censorship, as a better understanding of what the story does and doesn’t need to be effective. As it turned out, Black Flowers didn’t need so much. You have to respect the overall tone of what you’re doing; it has to fit.

Will there ever be a Steve Mosby penned childrens’ book – either under your name or a pen-name?



Ha ha! Probably not, but never say never. The weird thing is that, back when I was unpublished, I was sending manuscript after manuscript to the same agent, and she kept telling me I should write YA fiction. I have no idea what made her think that – the style, rather than the content I guess. So maybe it’s possible. I mean, if I had a good idea, I’d write anything. If I had a good idea for a cat mystery, I’d write one of those.

Is there a ‘traditional’ straight detective crime novel hidden in a drawer somewhere, or anything else you’ve written that hasn’t seen the light of day, but just might?



I’ve got a few trunk novels, but – since I started writing them when I was 17 – the older ones are totally lost now. Even if I still had the floppy disks, I doubt a program exists that would read them. And that is a good thing, believe me: I read one of the later ones recently, and it was an awful, painful mess. There’d be no point even in mining it. No gold there.

As it happens, my books have probably got more traditional as I’ve gone along. Like I said, I started out writing stuff that was tinged with horror and the supernatural, a bit of SF thrown in for good measure, so the older stuff was more like The Third Person or The Cutting Crew than what I’m doing now. The book I’m writing at the moment – provisionally titled Dark Room – is turning out to be a fairly straightforward police procedural, although I’m sure I’ll find a way to twist it into contortions before I’m done.

Do you have a particular writing schedule/regime and any unusual writing habits or quirks?



Not really. Every single one of the books has been written in a different way – probably a desperate attempt to find a routine that works for me. I plan as much as possible, then tend to find better ideas as I go. But basically, I’m fairly relaxed about the whole thing. To use a pretentious analogy, it’s like shooting a movie with half a script. I know at the end I’ll have a better idea of what I should have filmed, a handful of good scenes, and the chance to do copious reshoots from new angles with different characters.

My routine at the moment is to write in the pub in the afternoon, tearing through the first draft as quickly as possible, not worrying too much about the quality or about what will or won’t make it to the second draft. Right now, I’m doing the leg-work – exploring the story a bit to see where it wants to go and where I’m prepared to let it. But I have to deliver in September, so I have to be a bit military about getting it done.

Any plans to produce a sequel to any of your books?  I believe a possible 50/50 Killer book 2 was discussed a while back on twitter?



Still Bleeding almost was. For a while, the cop character in that was going to be Mercer from 50/50, and I even wrote a few chapters from his perspective. In the end, I decided the fresh character of Kearney worked better, and it led to a very different book than I originally planned. In the initial stages, Mercer had retired to a battered old cottage on the coast that was gradually eroding into the sea. I liked the house, so used it very briefly in Black Flowers for someone else.

When I was planning Dark Room, I thought it might be Mark Nelson from 50/50 as the main. It’s not anymore, but it’s possible this book will have a sequel, that the new character will be a series character, but it’s too early to say right now. My problem is that I usually wrap everything up. The books are always conceived as sealed units. Everyone ends up where I’m happy to leave them.

Favourite movie / director ?



That’s a harsh question to throw at someone! I like David Fincher and Michael Mann very much. But I’d have a hard time pinning down a single film, and my top twenty would probably be a weird and slightly embarrassing mix. Some all time favourites: Star Wars; The Princess Bride; Seven; Fight Club; Manhunter; Heat; About a Boy; Grosse Pointe Blank; Minority Report; Lost in Translation; Switchblade Romance; Groundhog Day; The Truman Show … you see the problem here? We’d be at this all day.

Any TV or film company interest in any of your books so far?



The 50/50 Killer and Cry for Help have both been optioned by French production companies. They’re both ongoing projects, and I’m not too involved. I know a script for 50/50 has been through a couple of drafts. I’m quietly hopeful – the people involved are good people – but with film deals it’s always a case of not believing it’ll happen until you’re in a cinema watching the thing.

I’m in talks for a TV adaptation of Black Flowers right now, so can’t say too much about that. But again – quiet hope.

Anything to say about ebooks?



I like them, with some reservations. Given the choice, I’ll take a physical book every time, so the ebooks I do read tend to be ones it’s harder to get hold of. And I can’t say I rate the Kindle itself as a piece of kit, but being able to read across devices I carry anyway is nice. That’s Amazon’s real success, I think – the store, and the simplicity of the cloud.

Besides that, there are a hundred things to say, of course, but I’m reluctant to add to the static. Despite the huge boom in sales, I think it’s still early days. A few people are getting very rich right now, but how long it will continue and what will happen is anyone’s guess. When I got my Kindle last year, for example, eBook sales in my house increased by about 3000% because I wanted some content for my new toy. Don’t expect that particular increase to maintain. But we’re clearly in for an interesting few years.

The main thing that ‘bothers’ me is the pricing issue, and the dialogue around it. There’s a perception that eBooks should be considerably cheaper than their print equivalents. Leaving aside the arguments around production costs and sales potential, I think it’s a mercenary conception of value. I don’t buy books for the value of the paper; I buy them to read the story. That’s where the value lies. What is the experience of reading a story worth? Well, it’s worth a lot more than $0.99. At least, to me it is. The value of a story is not reducible to how much it costs to manufacture a computer file. This is not data entry.

And, finally, to save time at the bar at Harrogate, ‘What you drinking, Steve?’

It’s usually dry white wine at festivals – but I’m buying.

A huge thanks to Steve for taking the time for this interview and to Angela McMahon of Orion Books for making the arrangements.

For more on Steve and his novels, get over to his website: www.theleftroom.co.uk and tell him who sent you.

Or, better still, to meet Steve and buy and get him to sign a copy of one (or all) of his books, come along to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival this July, or in May you can also catch him in Liverpool with John Connolly and Charlie Williams at the following event:

Thursday, May 19 at 6:00 p.m.

“The Killer Inside You: Horror in Crime Fiction”

A Twisted Tales event with John Connolly, Steve Mosby and Charlie Williams Tickets £2, redeemable against the purchase of a horror or crime novel that night

Waterstone’s Liverpool One,

12 College Lane,

Liverpool

0151 709 9820

manager@liverpoolone.waterstones.com

Keith B Walters

 

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SANCTUS by Simon Toyne

Out now from HarperCollins

It’s little wonder that this debut novel was fought over by publishers wanting to get their hands on it – a battle that HarperCollins won and subsequently did a wonderful marketing job with.  The book jacket is cracking and the trailers for the novel that they released prior to publication went to show just how well the story could translate into a future movie.

Sanctus is a great, fast paced, historical conspiracy novel which will appeal to a wide audience (those who read Dan Brown and those whose reading tastes spread a little wider too).

The story begins in the city of Ruin.

A lone monk figure appears at the highest point of the Citadel of Ruin, a place said to hold the Sacrament – a hidden and unknown religious icon or being.  The world watches as the figure forms the shape of a cross, stands there for a while and then throws himself to his death, landing just outside of the Citadel’s grounds and becoming the subject of a Police and press investigation.

I found the book to be much more rewarding than many a conspiracy/code novel, of which there have been a steady procession of in recent years of course, with Sanctus having a strong Police procedural element, strong action sequences and, with all its hi-tech tracking and seeking of the truth behind what lies inside the Citadel, at times it reads like an episode of ’24’.

HarperCollins will also publish Simon Toyne‘s next two thrillers and, if this debut is a good indicator, then that’s two more great reads to come our way.

With all its religious/supernatural underpinnings – you should make Sanctus your Easter weekend read.

Keith B Walters

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Investigative Hearings 1: Cathi Unsworth

The first in a series of interviews with authors due to appear at this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate.

CASE ONE:

Cathi Unsworth – Author of The Not Knowing, The Singer, Bad Penny Blues, editor of London Noir, and upcoming new novel Weirdo.


You have a unique style and voice in the ‘crime’ genre – who, other than Derek Raymond, inspired your writing and is there one book or author that has influenced you in particular?

I love James Ellroy for redefining the genre and making the place, rather than one single series character, the main focus of his work; and for being so Goddamn clever. Then there are those authors who I feel are the spiritual offspring of Raymond and Ellroy, David Peace, Jake Arnott and the big Geordie lad helming my panel, Martyn Waites. They have all run with the idea of writing the hidden histories of a time and place to stunning effect, and having the wider social and pop cultural context makes the work all the more powerful. Also, two really great BBC television series  – Edge of Darkness and Our Friends in The North.

Who are your favourite current crime fiction authors – do you read across the board: UK/US/Scandinavia ?

I read as much as I possibly can, a lot of the time I am reading for research, but I try and take in as broad a spectrum as I can. Apart from the above mentioned authors I was recently very taken with Big Machine by Victor LaValle, on No Exit Press, an imprint that has always taken a punt on crime writers of a radically different stripe, and loved Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn, a very worthy winner of last year’s John Creasey Dagger. That reminded me of the first time I read 1974 by David Peace, which is just about the highest compliment I can give.

Will your appearance at this year’s Old Blood panel at Harrogate be your first time back there since you were on the New Blood panel?  Do you enjoy the festivals and public parts of the writer’s life, when so much of the other time is presumably spent in a lot of isolation?

It’ll be my third time – I was here two years ago to do a very interesting panel on writers who love music, with Dreda Say Mitchell, Martyn Waites and John Harvey, chaired by Mojo’s Andrew Male. I do love coming to Harrogate, to meet with friends and because I love Yorkshire so much – I’ll be taking the opportunity to head out into the Dales and do a bit of rambling while I’m there. I do enjoy festivals and events, because I love to meet the people who read my books – they are a suave bunch. But I don’t actually spend very much time in isolation as I work four days a week, so events like these get turned into holiday opportunities as well – my walking boots are always in the back of the car!

What was the last great crime movie you watched – old or modern?

In tribute to the passing of a legend, The Pawnbroker by Sidney Lumet – one of the most emotionally powerful films I have ever seen, with a mighty score by Quincy Jones.

Do you have a particular writing schedule/regime and any unusual writing habits or quirks?

I write all day on Thursdays, my day off from work, and on evenings and weekends. I just get up as early as possible and get going with a big pot of coffee and a stack of Gauloises Blondes. Often I find the whole day has passed in what seems like five minutes. I sometimes get obsessed with pieces of music that I have to listen to to get the atmosphere right for what I am writing. The first chapter of The Not Knowing is scored down to the second to ‘On The Other Side of Relaxation’ by Barry Adamson, the first track on his ‘Moss Side Story’ LP. It had the perfect atmosphere of impending, escalating terror.

Can you give anything away at this point about ‘Weirdo’  – is it a follow up to The Not Knowing or a standalone using Simon Everill’s book within that novel as a jumping off point?

Only the title is the same as Simon Everill’s book, and the setting of Norfolk, but not where his was (the Fens on the Cambridgeshire border) but an approximation of the seaside resort town where I grew up. I did want to bring something of the rural horror feel that Everill’s book has to it – the Norfolk Broads and the long, windswept beaches make a very eerie backdrop to strange goings on, and in the book I wanted to explore the notion of identity and belonging, clans and cults, outsiders and locals – what unites us and what divides us. You will, I am sure, be familiar with the expression Normal For Norfolk, so it is an ideal setting to look into these things. I also draw reference from historical characters who haunt this landscape – Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General being one notorious villain, and my favourite, Captain Swing, who was like the 19th century rural equivalent of Anonymous. I was inspired by films like Michael Reeve’s Witchfinder General and Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw, as well as a book called Unquiet Country by Robert Lee. Google that one and look at the face on the front cover – it says it all.

In The Not Knowing you make quite a mention of migraines – are they something you suffer from personally and, if so, do you work mainly on screen or do you write any drafts in longhand?

Yes, I have suffered from migraines since I was 12 years old, had no idea what was happening to me and was too scared to tell anyone in case I was going mad. They still do plague me, but not with quite the violent intensity they had in my youth. I have had to work on computers for the past 20 years or so, ever since the magazine industry (which I still work in) went over to computers and, despite what we are always told, I don’t doubt that they have contributed to deterioration of my eyesight. I did write the whole first draft of TNK in longhand as four computers in a row died on me, but I have spent so many years writing and editing on a mac, I do find it quicker and easier to do books this way too. I don’t know what I would do without a cut-and-paste facility!

Any TV or film company interest in any of your books so far?

I don’t want to jinx anything, so just keeping my fingers crossed on one possibility that is currently floating in the aether.

Anything to say about ebooks?

Not really. I wouldn’t want to read a book that way, having said all of the above about what computers do to your eyes, and also, being the Luddite I am, still loving the feel and weight of books themselves, the way I prefer LPs to CDs. Books are like friends to me, I like to be surrounded by them, not have them locked up in an electronic filing cabinet that has the potential to malfunction the way all my old computers did. I lost about ten years’ worth of interview transcripts in those buggers.

And, finally, to save time at the bar at Harrogate, ‘What you drinking, Cathi?’

I am honestly rather partial to a pint of Old Peculier. And the odd glass of Champagne…

A huge thanks to Cathi for taking the time and to Anna-Marie Fitzgerald of Serpent’s Tail for making the arrangements.

Cathi’s at The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate this July on the ‘Old Blood’ panel.

For more on Cathi Unsworth, her books and to download passages from Bad Penny Blues that she soundtracked with her friend Pete Woodhead, who did the soundtrack for Shaun of the Dead and was in some cool bands that old skool Sheffield scenesters would know about, get along to www.cathiunsworth.co.uk

And get along to Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and book your ticket

Keith B Walters

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Hakan Nesser – The Inspector and Silence – PLUS PRIZE DRAW !

Just out in paperback from Pan Macmillan is the fifth in the increasingly successful Inspector Van Veeteren series by Swedish born Hakan Nesser.

With a sixth book in the series, The Unlucky Lottery, due out in hardback in October, now’s the time to get catching up with this great series and the author the Times says ‘is in the front rank of Swedish crime writers.

For more on the author and his books, drop by at;   http://www.panmacmillan.com/features/displayPage.asp?PageID=8467

Thanks to the lovely people at Pan Macmillan, Books and Writers have been given the opportunity to send out a full set of all five Inspector Van Veeteren novels to five lucky winners – not only that, but all five in each set will be signed by the author too!

So, if you want to be in with a chance of winning a complete set comprising of the following titles:

BORKMANN’S POINT

THE RETURN

THE MIND’S EYE

WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK

THE INSPECTOR AND SILENCE

just leave a comment below, along with your email address (using (AT) instead of @ to confuse any spambots) and I’ll pick five lucky winners in a week’s time.

Good luck and happy reading.

Keith

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THE NOT KNOWING by Cathi Unsworth

Published by Serpent’s Tail  £7.99

(Review first posted at http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/  – get over there for your latest cultural fix).

One of the best parts of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (Harrogate) is the discovering new authors that you haven’t read before.  Sometimes they are completely new and debut authors, other times (and often to my shame) they are writers who have been on the Crime Fiction circuit for some time and have simply missed my radar.

Such is the case with Cathi Unsworth, who this year is at the festival as part of the ‘Old Blood’ panel discussion – a meeting of those names who were, a few years back, debut novelists on the renowned ‘New Blood’ panel there.

Cathi (seen here with fellow crime writer Martyn Waites) has a style all of her own, edgy London based crime novels with hip soundtracks and great cultural reference points throughout her work.  The spattering of well known London institutions such as the ICA, the National Film Theatre, Guardian Lectures, pubs, clubs and shops such as Psychotronic Video all add to the realism of the tale, as do references to popular culture music and movies, with everything from Abel Ferrara to Texas Chainsaw Massacre mentioned.

The Not Knowing, set in 1992, is the story of a murder; that of hip gangster film director, Jon Jackson, shortly after the huge success of his movie ‘Bent’ which has spawned a whole generation of ‘Kray Klones’ – those who dress like gangsters Ronnie & Reggie.  It’s also the story of Diana Kemp, a young music, books and movie journalist who finds herself both following and becoming part of the crime story.

Kemp works for ‘Lux’ magazine, but references to her work on the NME and Melody Maker clearly mirror Cathi Unsworth’s own journalism past, and this is, as with many first novels, packed full of the author’s own loves and interests – in this case not a bad thing at all, as she clearly knows her stuff.

At the opening of the book, Kemp is glad to receive a parcel containing her press pass and a couple of review copies of new crime fiction titles for the upcoming Crimewave festival at the ICA.  The irony that this novel came to me from the lovely publishers at Serpent’s Tail (along with her other titles) so that I can review them and interview Cathi herself ahead of this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival was certainly not lost on me.

As with all good crime stories, the murderer is pretty well veiled amongst a cast of well rounded possible killers, from her own colleagues on the magazine, to a suspicious acting writer, to actors within the director’s hit movie.  It’s also got some nice back-stories and sub-plots with Diana Kemp appearing to be the re-incarnation of a famous movie star, Emily Davey, when she’d seen by fellow actor Niall Flynn.

The Not Knowing also includes a book within a book, as we are treated to some bizarre and dark passages from the other fiction that Diana reads prior to the Crimewave festival.  Specifically she focuses on ‘Weirdo’ by Simon Everill and is keen to discover more about the author and just where his ideas for the novel came from.

This is of particular interest as Cathi Unsworth’s next novel, due in 2012, is entitled ‘Weirdo’ – at this stage I do not know if this is a sequel of sorts to The Not Knowing or if it will be the Simon Everill book expanded to a novel – in either case, I am very excited about it.

The Not Knowing ticked all the boxes for me.

It was entertaining, fast moving, with lots of pop cultural references and, with the book being based around crime movies and a crime fiction festival, it couldn’t fail to excite me.

 

Highly recommended.

Really looking forward to catching up with Cathi’s other books now and to catching up with her at the festival in July.

For all the festival details and to book for your weekend break or events there, go to: http://www.harrogate-festival.org.uk/crime

Keith B Walters

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BLACK FLOWERS by Steve Mosby

Published by Orion Books on 14th April 2011.

£18.99 Hardback   £12.99 Trade Paperback

I have been a big fan of Steve Mosby’s books for a long time and just wish there were more of them, or a back catalogue of undiscovered novels someone would unearth.  But, I just have to accept that the guy is a lot younger than me and what is currently not there in quantity is more than made up for in a very dark quality.

Black Flowers, though not as nasty as some of his previous books (a possible development since recent fatherhood I wonder), remains another dark entry to the Mosby canon and, if justice is to be done. this one deserves to push his profile significantly forward.

This is not a story about a little girl who disappears.

This is the story of a little girl who comes back.

If the two liner above doesn’t grab you, then I defy anyone to get past the first one and half pages of this novel and close the book – you won’t be able to.  Set up as a dream-like scenario with the Black Flower being a fictional book within the book and the tale of a little girl who returns, of writers who are seemingly repeating events through their fiction that may or may not be based on a truth, this novel stayed with me every hour I was reading it, even when the book was closed or I was attempting sleep.

It’s  a book that I found troubling, but in a good way, in the same way that Andrew Pyper’s Lost Girls also gave me sleepless nights – a book that has added value for all the moments in between, when you’re not reading it, but you’re still thinking of it.

The central character is a writer, Neil Dawson, who is seeking out why his father has committed suicide.  Steve Mosby has a cop character within the story but, as is the case with all of his books, they never stray into standard Police procedurals, they are always different, always fresher – even if that means that the cop in this novel, Hannah Price, finds herself with a map of possible murder sites and a bloodied hammer, and the thought that her father might have been a killer.

Neil Dawson’s character has also written a book within this book and I doubt it’s without intention that the theme of his book, the taking of a loved one by a wish to a Goblin King, is similar to events in the movie Labyrinth, as the plot within Black Flowers is exactly that, Labyrinthine.  The plot is so multi-layered and intricate that, in many ways, it forms a flower of its own, with individual stories and timeframes meeting and overlapping each other but creating a perfect form in their conjunction.  It will keep you guessing, it will have you wondering but, above all, it will have you gripped reading it right until the last page.

This isn’t so much ‘a dream within a dream’ as a nightmare within a nightmare with its continual mirrored reflections between fiction and reality, meta-fiction and a sometimes obscure tone that feels like it’s fallen from a David Lynch movie like Mullholland Drive.  How he managed to weave such a dream-like quality and still know where he was going with all the strands I will never know.

My advice would be to get a copy in readiness for one of those bank holiday days that are looming and devour it in one go – if you break it down over several nights, as I did, be prepared for restless night’s whilst your mind tries to fill in the blanks.

A really spooky, dark and gripping read – just what we’ve come to expect from Mr Mosby, but I think he’s raised the bar with this one as I couldn’t stop thinking about the book even whilst I was supposed to be doing other things (like working…).

Just hope it’s not too long a wait for the next one.

You can find out more about Steve and his books at: http://www.theleftroom.co.uk or catch up with him at this years Harrogate Crime Writing Festival: Full details of events and to make your booking can be found at: http://www.harrogate-festival.org.uk/crime

Keith

 

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