Monthly Archives: October 2011

THE BUNKER by Andrea Maria Schenkel

Published by Quercus

Translated from the German by Anthea Bell.

Not a new novel, but when I saw this neat little book and took a quick read of the blurb and the first couple of pages, I was hooked.  Essentially a two person act, with Monika the central character being snatched away and kept locked up for reasons she believes must be linked to a crime set in the time of her childhood, and her captor as the other character, this is a taut and powerful tale well told as it switches from one perspective to the other alternately with interspersed details of hospital treatment to person/s unknown as the story is told between them.

Clocking in at under 180 pages, it manages to be a book I’ll likely remember a lot longer than many weightier books I’ve read this year and, whilst the subject matter may be fairly well trodden territory, BUNKER manages to make everything seem fresh – disturbingly so.

On the strength of this read I went straight out and purchased a copy of THE MURDER FARM, Schenkel’s first novel.  Can’t wait to read that and more of her work.



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ALREADY GONE by John Rector

Published by Thomas & Mercer in the US & by Simon & Schuster in the UK

If you are looking for a new author to read then make me a promise, put John Rector on your Christmas list.

This is the third novel of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading and I really don’t think the guy’s put a foot wrong.  Each novel is a stand-alone, but I think this latest is likely to be his biggest and most commercial hit – so, jump in with ALREADY GONE and then you can seek out THE GROVE and THE COLD KISS afterwards.

The covers shown here are the US jacket (with the birds in flight) – which immediately made me think of Stephen King’s The Dark Half and the UK cover on the right (a colder, more chilling version of a cover similar to a Harlan Coben novel I thought).  As it turns out, if you could, and if you wanted to do such a thing, place Mr King and Mr Coben in a blender (or maybe just their books would be less grisly) and mixed them up, John Rector has the best elements of both of their works in his.

His central character this time round is Jake Reese, an ordinary guy with an ordinary job, but with a past that is about to literally come back and beat him, leaving him assaulted in a car park, less one finger.  I initially thought the book was about to veer down the ‘History of Violence’ story route, but was surprised to discover that it’s when Jake’s wife, Diane, is stolen away from him that it’s also her past that plays a key role in the events about to play out.

This is clearly a shot at the Linwood Barclay and Harlan Coben style of book, and that’s no bad thing at all.  I was about to cite Coben’s ‘Tell No One’ as probably the closest to which I think this is, but have just spotted that very same comparison in the publisher’s blurb on the rear of the UK book.  It also has all the great ‘race against time’ elements that often frequent books by authors such as Simon Kernick, with some great pacing and really nice twists.

As soon as I mentioned it on twitter on Friday night (when just 4 pages in) I received comment saying that I was bound to finish it over the weekend – I raced through it in just two sittings – pausing only for sleep.

For fans of any of the authors I’ve made tenuous cross-reference to above, or those who like their plots fast and along the lines of great recent French crime movies like ‘Anything for Her’ or ‘Point Blank’, this is for you.

ALREADY GONE is a little different from John Rector’s other novels, but consistent excellence in storytelling is already proving his calling card.

Highly recommended – get your orders placed.


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BLACK LIGHT by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstain & Stephen Romano

Published by Mulholland Books (Hodder).

 Two striking covers (the one on the left from the UK and the one on the right from the US) for this perfect Halloween time read.

BLACK LIGHT comes from two of the men responsible for penning such cinematic terrors as SAW IV, SAW V, SAW VI, SAW 3D and THE COLLECTOR (which they are currently filming a sequel to) and they are joined by acclaimed author, screenwriter and illustrator, Stephen Romano for this, their first novel.

It is, as you would expect, another walk on the dark side, or – in this case a high speed train ride (up to 500mph!) through the darkness as we join central character, PI and exorcist, Buck Callahan as he’s hired to cimba aboard the ‘Jaeger Laser’ bullet train for its debut, and politically sponsored, journey.  The reason for Buck being asked along is that the route of the train will take leads directly through a triangle of the most deadly ‘marks’ – tortured souls who refuse to leave the earth – and Buck has a particular skill in being able to drag them into his own body to then expel them.

He also takes the mission as he suspects it may help him find out what happened to his parents, whose deaths had something to do with the train and its route.

This is an occult action movie crying out to be made, full of witty PI asides and a great central character – not as gruesome as I would have expected (given the authors’ pedigrees) but I think it’s a good thing that they didn’t trade fully on that aspect.  It races along almost at the same speed as the train in which most of the action takes place.

Forget ‘Snakes on a Plane’, I can’t wait till this is made into a movie and I stand in line to buy a ticket to ‘Souls on a train’.

Good dark fun.


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The Drowning Pool by Syd Moore

Published by Avon (Harper Collins)

‘On a drunken night out with friends in the seaside town of Leigh-on-Sea, widowed teacher Sarh unwittingly creates a séance. Sarah and her son Alfie are then subjected to a terrifying series of a hauntings, and Sarah becomes convinced that the ghost is that of a 19th Century Sea Witch, and namesake Sarah Grey.’

I loved the tone of this book, the investigations into the past history of Leigh-on-Sea and the barbaric practices of Matthew Hopkins (the legendary Witchfinder General) and his ilk, all of which helped greatly to make the terrors of Sarah’s reality even more frightening.

It’s cover brilliantly conveys the past being brought back by the seaside location and the fact that this is a tale where a lost soul wants the truth to be heard.

Through a series of letters and research the tale begins to become clearer to Sarah, but not any less scary as it moves along.

And, for a novel where the ghost element is so steeped in the past, the most modern scene of a haunting, where another character tells Sarah she can see the ghost standing behind her whilst they are on skype together is the one that will keep me awake at night.

A haunting and powerful ghost story, which manages to succeed both with the historical and the modern elements.

Perfect Halloween reading material.



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The Shadow on the Stairs – Ann Halam

Published by Barrington Stoke

A great little (and I do mean little, clocking in at just 71 pages (and that includes some with illustrations) ghost story for the spooky season.

Although one of Barrington Stokes’ books designed initially for reluctant readers this tale of Joe and his worry of what is causing the shadow on the stairs and the terrible night when he discovers just what it is, is a great read for all ages and perfect for a commute.

I was pleased to hear my daughter comment when she saw it on this week’s reading pile that her friend at school was reading the same book this week and she loved it too.



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A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough

Published by Gollancz (Orion Books)

If you enjoy a good crime tale and you’re also on the lookout for something a bit supernatural and not of this world to put the fear of god up your central character and you, the reader, then seek out ‘A Matter of Blood’ by Sarah Pinborough.

I’m late to this, as book two is already on the shelves and it’s a trilogy by the author, who was one of several new names to me for seeking out after this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

Set a few years in the future, but with economic problems and ‘The Bank’ as a central mysterious and villainous organisation, the book has a huge resonance in the here and now of 2011.

The streets are plagued with people falling foul of ‘Strain 2’ – an Aids-like disease with no working drugs, and trapped in the middle of more than one horrific case as well as all the horrors that his world has to offer him, is DI Cass Jones.  A great character, haunted by his work, his own dark past, and the ghost of his brother – Cass is on the search for the truth into his brother, sister-in-law, and son’s deaths in what appears to have been a murder suicide.

There’s also the small matter of a killer on the loose, victims with ‘Nothing is sacred’ written on them in blood and then skilfully outlined with the eggs of flies.

As the dark trio of plots that run throughout the equally dark book, they appear to be heading towards a collision, somehow linked and with Cass racing to discover some truths before he looks set to be destroyed when they smash together.

Dark fantasy, dark crime, or just a bloody good pre-Halloween read – ‘A Matter of Blood’ delivers, and the premise that ‘The Man of Flies is Among Us’ is a very scary thought indeed.



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The Specsavers Crime & Thriller Awards in association with The Crime Writers’ Association and on ITV3

On Friday night, thanks to MEC Social and Cactus TV, I was honoured and privileged to be invited along to the 2011 Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards in association with the Crime Writers’ Association.

It’s an event I’ve watched on ITV3 for the past few years and this year there was an excellent lead up to the Awards show with the weekly countdown of the A-Z of Crime series, which featured all the greats from crime fiction and the many television adaptations of those books concerned.

Suited up, I set off to The Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane in a timely fashion – after all, it would be criminal to miss out on this event. This gave sufficient time to meet up with fellow crime blogger Milorambles, for an early beer which he’d arranged with author of HUNTED, Emlyn Rees. This turned out to be something of an adventure in itself, with us locating the pub in question by questioning a heavily armed Policeman guarding a local embassy, who slung his submachine gun for a while to locate the pub on his iphone for us and then us locating the pub via iphone map downloading. All this on the day after Steve Jobs sad demise – so, thank you, Steve.

After a great chat and a pint with Emlyn, it was time for us to head back along Park Lane to the venue – and what a lovely location it is too. A quick flash of our tickets and we were in and led down a staircase to a hallway that was already filling fast with some very familiar faces from the world of crime fiction in books and television – a veritable who’s who before our very eyes.

I’m sure I managed to ruin at least one of the paparazzi photos of Peter Robinson as I was advised it was okay to pass through the entrance, but the cameras barely stopped flashing away. As each author or actor passed by, they paused to pose at a set-crime scene, complete with body outline and team of Crime Scene Investigators.

The main Ballroom was beautifully set out in cabaret style round table arrangement, each with place setting and some goodies from main sponsor, Specsavers. The champagne was doing the rounds for an hour or so for a reception before everyone took their seats, giving a chance to meet some of the authors and stars in the room, but it wasn’t until the awards got going and shots of some of the tables started to appear on the big screen that it became apparent just how many big name stars there were.

After a bit of house-keeping, which basically welcomed us all, advised us that if we left our seats that a ‘seat-filler’ person would quickly step in, and explained that the 90 minute show would be filmed in one take without even the ad breaks that would appear in the final version, the show kicked off.

Amiable host Marcus Brigstocke stepped up once again this year to a role he has made his own over previous years. He’d advised us that he used to have perfect 20/20 vision but had laser surgery a few years back just to damage his eyes badly enough to be able to wear Specsavers glasses.

I won’t spoil all of the celebrity spots here – you can see the whole show for yourself on Tuesday 11th October on ITV3 at 9pm, but do look out for some great appearances from the cast of The Killing, a surprise visit from a key member of the cast of True Grit, a preview of a spoof detective show BURKE starring Marcus Brigstocke, and the best speech of the night from Luther star, Idris Elba.

And, if you don’t already know the winners, and still want to find out ahead of watching the show, here’s the list of who won what on the night.






CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger: Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson






Film Dagger: TRUE GRIT





Best Supporting Actress: Ann Eleonora Jorgensen (The Killing)




Best Supporting Actor: Rafe Spall (The Shadow Line)






CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger: The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton






International TV: The Killing




Best Actor: Idris Elba (Luther)






Best Actress: Sofie Grabol (The Killing)





CWA Gold Dagger: Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin






ITV3 People’s Bestseller Dagger: Peter James






(Peter James and the other four shortlisted authors; David Baldacci, Mark Billingham, Lee Child & Peter Robinson were all also inducted into The International Hall of Fame sponsored by Specsavers. This places them alongside P.D.James, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Colin Dexter, Lynda La Plante, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Frederick Forsyth and George Pelecanos).

A fantastic evening and one that did nothing but further enforce my love for the genre, and to add to the list of authors, books and great television that is out there to be devoured.

And in a spooky coincidence, when I left the hotel, I was given a goodie bag from Specsavers – amongst the gifts there was a book – HUNTED by Emlyn Rees ☺


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Victim Six by Gregg Olsen

Published by Robinson (Constable & Robinson).

This is not just another serial killer book.

With ‘Victim Six’, New York Times’ best-selling author Gregg Olsen has created the script for what could be one of the best films on the subject ever made or, with its great episodic structure, a great television event – if in the right hands.

Its number maybe Six but in many scenes this out Se7en’s ‘Se7en’, and if you thought a head in a box was as bad as things can get, take a breath and think again – this is not for the faint-hearted.

Set in the area of Kitsap, Washington, Detective Kendall Stark has her own share of life’s problems, including a special needs son, and now she has stumbled, along with her partner Josh Anderson, on a series of victims that appear to be linked.  The killer is savage and mocking, keeping local news reporter on ‘The Lighthouse’ paper, Serenity Hutchins up to speed with his evil acts.

This is not a comfortable read and, I have to confess, at the first graphic sexual torture scene I did think this book just wasn’t for me, but I stuck with it.  The reasons why?  You may ask.

Well, firstly, the structure of the book works so well, it reads just as a case unfolding (no doubt a skill developed with his true crime books), with the reader uncovering the details at more or less the same speed as the investigators.  It also has the nice touch of revealing the killer and some of the reasoning about midway, so that we can then stat to see the explosive ending on the horizon before the key players become aware of it.  But most of all I think ‘Victim Six’ works because the characters all work, most importantly the victims.  Each is given sufficient ‘screen-time’ – we get to know who they are, some of their background and family/friends – we get to see that they matter, they are not merely fodder for the mechanics of a kill list book.  With each victim being given  a section of the novel as the case moves forward, the reader cannot help but be drawn in, to the point where you won’t be able to pull back out.

I’m just flicking through my notes from as I read the book, and despite the fact that I feel best not to include the moments that made me write them (best you discover them in the same way as I did), I have never scribbled OMG in my review notes for any book before, and did so several times whilst reading ‘Victim Six’!

So, it’s a taut, disturbing and, at times, very grisly read, but one that does its job – if you want a serial killer book, you want it to feel real, right?  Gregg Olsen’s ‘Victim Six’ does that, and serves everyone well: its investigators, its victims and its readers.

And, I’m very pleased to say that, after meeting Gregg this morning at a launch for this and his exciting new YA series (more of that soon), I have a signed copy of VICTIM SIX up for grabs for one lucky reader.

To be in with a chance, leave a comment below and your email address, putting ‘AT’ instead of ‘@’ to confuse those pesky spammers!  I’ll pick a winner in a couple of weeks time.

Good luck – one of you can have some sleepless nights very soon!


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History in the Court – Goldsboro Books

Another top evening courtesy of the wonderful Goldsboro Books on Thursday and another chance to meet some of the finest writers around, mingle, chat, buy great books and get them signed too!

Following on from the highly successful ‘Crime in the Court’ event held earlier in the year, the subject this time round was all things historical, Fictional and Non-Fictional, and of course there was a bit of crime in there too.  Once again a full house in both rooms of the bookshop and a very packed Cecil Court outside where most of us made the most of the fantastically balmy September evening.  Managing Director David Headley took to his customary stepladder to thank everyone for their support and announced that, next year, Goldsboro will be honouring a debut Historical author with a special award ‘The Goldsboro Crown’ – a rather nice glass etched award, plus £2000 in cash.

The party was still in full swing when I left, and by then we’d already had to part the crowd to make way for a long Hari Krishna procession and had spent the evening marvelling at the stealth tactics used by the more determined book collectors as they tracked and hunted down their prey for signatures on their books.  Highlights of my evening were purchasing and having signed a copy of Judith Flanders’ great book on Victorian Crime, and having a nice chat about book festivals with James Forrester (pic courtesy of Mike Stotter of Shots).

The evening was a sell-out, as was Crime in the Court, so make sure you keep up to speed with everything that happens at this great independent in readiness for next year’s events if you missed out this time round.  In the meantime, they have a fantastic selection of beautiful first edition hardbacks for you to go and buy.



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All titles are published by Titan Books.

Having loved the Hard Case Crime books for a while now, I was really pleased to discover whilst at Harrogate that Titan Books were about to relaunch the titles plus some new ones in the UK as of the end of September.

So, it was with a roaring three loud bangs that these first three explosive little babies arrived on my doormat, with their glorious newly commissioned but very much ‘classic’ noir jackets.  They are all fast paced little gems of books, with tales to be told in fast talking PI style, without room for clutter, they just get on and get the job done, often in under 250 pages.

First up for me to read was ‘Quarry’s Ex’ by bestselling and incredibly prolific author Max Allan Collins (of ‘Road to Perdition’ fame).  Returning to his hitman, Quarry (who has featured in three previous novels), Collins spins a classic noir tale full of the usual components, femme fatales, a movie shoot scenario and smart talking wise-guys but all with a very ‘matter of fact’ style, even when describing driving a car slowly over someone’s head.

Quarry is a loner, but in this book he finds his estranged wife again by accident when he chooses to steal a potential target, film Director Arthur Stockwell, away from two other hitmen by telling the Director he’ll protect him for a fee – a two-for-one deal for $25K for taking out both hitmen.

The last time Quarry saw Joni, she was in bed with their mechanic, this time round he finds that she is known as J.J. and is married to Stockwell.  Then there’s just the question of how deep local mobster Louis Licata is involved in the production of the movie and the planned hit on its Director.

Quarry himself just feels like a tool for the use of others, distancing himself from the things he does with a simple philosophy.

‘My role was impersonal – clients opened a drawer, stuck in their hand, and I was the weapon they pulled out.’

A great fast paced read and a great introduction to Quarry and to the other Hard Case Crime titles coming up.


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