Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Hunting Ground – An interview with Cliff McNish and a chance to win one of five copies for your own sleepless nights.

To celebrate the January paperback release of the excellent novel ‘The Hunting Ground’ by Cliff McNish, those lovely people at Indigo/Orion have provided Books and Writers with FIVE COPIES TO BE WON by readers of this blog.

The following is my chat with the author of this great scare-fest, and you can read my review of the book here.

After you’ve had a read of the review and the interview, please leave a comment below with your email address (using ‘AT’ instead of @ to confuse pesky spambots) and I’ll enter you in the draw to win one of the copies for your very own sleepless nights.

 

 

 

KBW: Firstly, I loved the book, but found it a little intense to hand to my 11 year old daughter – what age group do think this suits best?
CM: That’s a good question. Originally it was written with Elliott and Ben being 14 and 12 respectively. But the psychological darkness was so intense – Cullayn especially – that a late decision was made to up the age of the main protagonist to 16 and certainly from age 13 upwards is where I expect most readers to find a home with it.

KBW: Is Glebe House or any of the events based on anything in reality or in your own experience, or is everything in The Hunting Ground pure fiction?
CM: I guess I’ve looked around a few old properties in my time, taking in the atmosphere, and I have an interest in mazes, which is maybe where the labyrinth of the East Wing originated – but overall it is just an invented composite that suited my purpose.

KBW: How did the doll being dragged across the floor and its head bouncing along come about? – That’s an image that still stays and haunts me now.
CM: I don’t know. The doll idea – well, every creepy ghost story has to have a little dead girl and her doll she still won’t be parted from, doesn’t it? But the bumping/dragging stuff … I just wanted something unnerving you would hear and not understand for a while… ghosts stories should always be filled with those sort of things, don’t you think? Less seen, more heard…

KBW: What scares you?
CM: Real life scares me all the time. Illness. Death. Physical and mental decline. That kind of stuff. In fiction, I’m scared when an author makes me like a character and then does things that are totally unexpected but feel psychologically true to them.

KBW: Do you have a favourite ghost story in fiction? And in film? And I assume you must have seen The Woman in Black on stage?
CM: I don’t have one single favourite ghost story, although two I’ve read recently have impressed me for different reasons.
1. Strangers by Taichi Yamada – an adult Japanese ghost story that is deceptively simply written and very beautiful and cold.
2. My Brother’s Ghost by Allan Ahlbeg is as wistful and beautiful a ghost story for kids or adults you’ll ever read. Guardian short listed many years ago.

Films … mm, tricky one. No one single favourite, though the Spanish film THE ORPHANAGE was very very good.
As for The Woman in White, I saw a not-that-brilliant production many years – maybe my mood was off, but it lacked something, I thought …

KBW: Do you have a set writing place or can you write more or less anywhere? And are you committed to a writing regime/set hours etc or just when the mood takes you?
CM: I’m very workmanlike, doing plenty of hours once I have the story clearly set in my mind and know where I’m going. Until then, I’m all over the place! I tend to do it all in my study but I can write anywhere if I have to — as long as I have a computer!

KBW: What’s been the stand-out book that you’ve read in 2011?
CM: Great question. I’ve been disappointed by quite a few. Especially Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE, which took me a month to read! Maybe the most stay-in-your-mind good was Amanda Coe’s debut novel WHAT THEY DO IN THE DARK – a decidedly adult novel, but whose main protagonists are children.

KBW: What can we look forward to next from you?
CM: At the moment I’m going back to my first love – fantasy. I can’t reveal any more yet but it should be coming out in 2013, so watch this space…

Many thanks to Cliff for taking time out for this and, if you want to scare yourself silly with his book, then enter a comment and your email below – Good luck.

Keith

 

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Stolen Souls by Stuart Neville

Published by Harvill Secker (The Random House Group) on 26th January 2012.
The new book jackets for Stuart Neville’s books (a broken doll for ‘The Twelve’, a broken lightbulb for “Collusion’ and a broken mirror for this, his third novel, ‘Stolen Souls’)  describe perfectly their contents – crime that deals with broken dreams and shattered lives.

Since blazing onto the crime fiction scene in 2009 with ‘The Ghosts of Belfast/The Twelve’ and gaining high praise from all that read it, including the great James Ellroy who stated ‘It’ll knock you sideways. This guy can write’, each of his novels is widely anticipated by fans and his fellow crime writers alike.

Neville’s novels crack along without a word wrongly placed or overwritten, they are parred down, fast page burning reads with a deep characterisation throughout, particularly with his central character of detective Jack Lennon.

This time round the subject matter is that of people trafficking and deals primarily with the story of Galya, a young Lithuanian girl who is brought to Belfast to be put to work as a prostitute.  In a fight for her life, Galya has taken the life of another, a gang member, and this places her clearly in the targets of many who seek to find and kill her.  Jack Lennon is hoping for a quiet Christmas to spend some time with his daughter, but with an imploding gang war taking lives all around him and growing suspicions that a man of the cloth who has offered refuge and safety to a ‘stolen soul’ might not be as he first appears, Christmas-time seems likely to be anything but quiet.

Any novel that begs from the bedside for me to get up in the middle of the night and sit and read its last two hundred pages until finishing at 3am can, quite frankly, not be short of excellent. All thriller, at times high drama and in many places almost gothic horror in its themes and settings, bases are very much covered here and extremely well.

Three novels in and it feels like Stuart Neville is still very much the one to watch – highly recommended.

Keith

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Taunting the Dead by Mel Sherratt

Available now on amazon.

From its great cover to the tale within, this is a greatly packaged debut which delivers on all fronts.

With characters you’ll love and love to hate too, this great debut has a feel of Martina Cole taking a trip to Stoke and taking the bad stuff with her.

The central character of DS Allie Shenton is a great creation and one I’d really like to read more of in future books. The investigation of the murder of Steph Ryder brings Allie closer to a family she already knows and closer still to the dark secrets that cluster to fog her search for the killer – of which there are several very likely suspects, it seems.

Skillfully juggling the cast of characters, we are led through the darkening streets of Stoke and the devious members of its society as each tries to cover their tracks for events that led up to the killing.

Like many great crime novels, the character is important, but so is the location and with ‘Taunting the Dead’ Mel Sherratt has placed Stoke firmly on the map and, with a strong mix of human drama, sex and crime, has hammered it home there.

What are you waiting for, get over to amazon, hit that BUY button and check out the first investigation by Allie Shenton now.

Keith

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The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus

The second in the series featuring Investigator Ruth Galloway, Forensic Archaeologist, and no disappointments here – can’t wait to get into books 3 and 4 of the series.

The central character of Ruth is developing in more ways than one, following events in the first of the series, The Crossing Places, and is once again thrown into turmoil both in her personal life and by being brought in to investigate after the bones of a child’s skeleton, minus its head, are discovered when builders demolish an old house.

Subsequent discoveries of a skeleton of a headless cat and rumours of child torture and of two missing children from 1973 when the house was once a childrens’ home, all draw Ruth deeper in the darkness once again.  Could the location of the bones, under a door threshold, point towards a sacrificial gift to Janus the God of doors and openings, the God of beginnings and endings?

And, then, when her name is found written at the remains of the house, it seems nigh on impossible for her to get away from the case.

A great character with all the traits set up so nicely in the first book really coming to life now in the second investigation.  I love that Ruth selects Springsteen albums to suit her mood, that she makes slights at the Time Team show, and her failable nature is very endearing.

There are no major shocks in The Janus Stone that prevent it being read in isolation, but I’d strongly suggest starting with The Crossing Places as it’s been great so far to follow the wonderful Ruth Galloway as she stumbles through the situations that the wonderful Elly Griffiths puts her in.

Keith

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The Christmas Spirits by Whitley Strieber

Out now from Hodder in ebook format.

Strieber is an author I’ve very much neglected over the years – but now the bestselling author of the classic horror novels (and to most known from the films they spawned) The Wolfen and The Hunger, and the non-fiction book,Communion (also made into a movie starring Christopher Walken) is back!

The Christmas Spirits is a great reimagining of Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol and brings the story to the 21st century. Instead of Scrooge, we follow a modern version in the form of futures analyst and stocks player George Moore, as he receives three visitors on Christmas Eve, just as Scrooge was visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. But these are not the ghosties and sprites that frightened Dickens’s readers. George’s visitors are more ambiguous and all the more frightening to the modern sensibility because of it. Can George make the changes that are needed to save his eternal soul, or will he die a premature death which his employees will celebrate with a party?

It’s a great modern twist on a classic premise, with Christmas being the ultimate time for reflection on just who we really are and what we could really achieve for the good of others if we chose to.  The updates include fashionable must have items such as trainers and George visiting locations to make change in his luxury limousine – but, although the characters and the scares are different, the message that George is given is essentially that of the timeless classic.

So, go ahead, get that download for some festive chills and check out this superb trailer for the book too.

Keith

 

 

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The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch.

Published by Simon & Schuster.

Almost as surreal as watching the classic television show the author’s father, this great little book was a delight and a very strange tombe to read.

From the very first page I was transported back to the world of Twin Peaks with every mention of each and every character giving me flashbacks to all those years ago, sitting round at my then girlfriend’s (now wife’s) mother’s house with her and my now brother-in-law devouring every ounce of the episodes as we consumed lots of cherry pie and damn fine coffee.

The diary starts off in July 1984, when seemingly sweet and innocent Laura Palmer was 12 years old and, knowing the fate that befell her, gives a kind of ‘Lovely Bones’ feel to the diary entries.  A journal interspersed with Laura’s poetry, this is enticing stuff as the reader plows for clues, for secrets to be spilled that will lead to the identity of her killer.

If I had one disappointment with the book, it was simply a personal one in that I missed Agent Dale Cooper from the series – a character only brought in to investigate Laura’s death of course and so never a part of her diary and past.

The diary is a pretty fast paced read – I killed it it two sittings – the diary format meaning that every entry leaves on a cliff-hanger before the next one and the speed at which Laura descends into a life of drugs and sexual experience is a dark and cavernous ride.  Before long, Laura Palmer is admitting that she realises that she simply likes to feel bad and keeps the reader wondering just how much of her actions led towards the things that happened to her later in her short and tragic life.

It’s an unusual and sometimes uncomfortable read, especially when considering that this is Jennifer Lynch’s take on the early life of her father’s character – not the sort of fiction I’d like my daughter to present to me – and made me think of the similarly dark pairing of Italian horror movie director Dario Argento and his daughter Asia.

With a great little opening by series co-creators Mark Frost and David Lynch, this also had me wanting to watch the series all over again – so that boxed set of dvds is soon going on order – the damn fine coffee’s brewing and the cherry pie is baking nicely.

Glory in its darkness.

Oh, and don’t forget to ‘Beware Of BOB’.

Keith

 

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The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch

Published tomorrow by Simon & Schuster, the secret diary kept by the tragic and darkly twisted Laura Palmer contains important clues as to the identity of her killer and is the start of the enthralling mystery and cult tv show Twin Peaks.

With a foreword by co-creators Mark Frost and David Lynch, this book from Jennifer Lynch is a must for all fans of the tv show and movie.

Tomorrow you can get hold of the book, but for now here’s an exclusive extract to whet your appetite.

So, go brew yourself some damn fine coffee, cut a slice of cherry pie and read……..

 

THE SECRET DIARY OF

LAURA

PALMER

JENNIFER LYNCH

Excerpt by kind permission of Simon & Schuster

To the person invading my privacy:                                                                                                                                                           September 15, 1984

I cannot believe the distrust I feel in my family and friends. I know for a fact that my diary was taken and read by someone, maybe several someones. I will not be writing any more in this diary for a long time, if ever. You have ruined my trust and my feeling of security. I hate you for that, whoever you are!

On these pages I have written things sometimes too scary or too embarrassing even to read again myself….I trust that these pages are turned only by me, only when I wish. Many things are hurting and confusing me. I need my private pages, in order to see my mind outside me, push it away.

Please stay away from this diary.

I mean it.

Laura

 

 

Dear Diary,                                                                                                                                                                                                              October 3, 1985

I have decided, over twelve months later, to begin speaking to you again. I have found a hiding place I will not speak of, in case you are found outside it and someone nosy wishes to know of its whereabouts.

I know it was not your fault someone found you and decided to pry, but it has taken me a long time to feel safe enough to write in your pages again. Many, many things have happened since you last heard from me, and many of these things have proven that my thoughts on the world’s being mostly a cruel and sad place are true and have been confirmed as such.

I trust no one, and only rarely myself. I struggle most mornings, afternoons, and evenings with what is right and what is wrong. I do not understand if I am being punished for something I have done wrong, something I don’t remember, or if this happens to everyone, and I am just too stupid to understand it.

First of all, I found out that Dad did not give Troy to me. Benjamin Horne did. The details are not important, but let’s just say I overheard Audrey arguing with her dad about it, when I was up at the Great Northern visiting Johnny. Johnny is Audrey’s brother, Benjamin’s other child. Johnny is slow. He is older than I am, but has the mentality of a young child. That’s what the doctors say at least.

Sometimes I think he’s just chosen to keep quiet because it is so much more interesting sometimes to just listen to people instead of talking to them. He never speaks except to say “Yes” or “Indian.” He loves Indians. He wears a headdress constantly. One made of beautifully colored feathers and died strips of leather. In his eyes the world is a strange mix of happiness and pain, and I think I understand Johnny more than I do a lot of other people. Perhaps I could find a way to spend more time with him. He is so often left alone.

I am glad that Troy is my pony, and I love riding him, walking with him, and just watching him graze. But now I feel awkward about Dad. Like he is less of an honest man for claiming that Troy was a gift from him. Maybe Benjamin wanted it that way, I don’t know. But no matter what, I am somehow more intrigued by Benjamin now and feel like I owe him more than Dad.

Sometimes I think that I would rather not have gotten a pony of my own at all, because that way I wouldn’t have lost any respect for Dad, and Benjamin would just have been Benjamin. Even worse, Audrey and I will probably never ever get along now. I am a little sick inside that I am the one who caused this. Also it gives me a feeling of power. Why do these things happen to me?

You know, I think out of all of the men I know in the world, Dr Hayward has been the most loving to me. He is unselfish, kind, and always shows me a gentle smile of inspiration of forgiveness – or anything that somehow always perfectly fills the gap I feel inside me. Thirteen years ago, he brought me into the world and held tight to my small body, for just a moment. In daydreams, I imagine that moment to be one of the warmest there ever was in my life. I love him for holding me, that frightened young child fresh to the air and light, and for making me believe, without even a word, that he would hold me again if I ever needed him to.

He reminds me of someone I wouldn’t mind seeing every day of my life. A grandfather sweetness, inside a father’s helping hand.

I’ll be back after dinner. There is plenty more news.

Love, Laura

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The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus.

At this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival I got to hear Elly Griffiths speak about her character and the location for her novels and she was on my ‘must seek out and read’ list after the event.  Now, with three books out in paperback and a new novel ‘A Room Full of Bones’ about to hit hardback in January, I felt it was time to do a little archaelogical work myself and go back to start from the very beginning.

The Crossing Places is the first novel novel of the series and features unlikely crime heroine, Ruth Galloway, a late-thirties overweight and clumsy Forensic Archaelogist who seems to stumble through life and her relationships and yet be bang on the money when it comes to the detailing of her work.  It’s this quirky combination of traits that makes her so loveable and I did find myself falling for her over the course of this first book – to use an archaeological term; she’s a real find.

Set in Norfolk, specifically near a fictional area of Saltmarsh in Kings Lynn, and complete with a nice little location map so the close proximity of events can be tracked, the story is that of missing and found girls.

Detective Inspector Harry Nelson of the Norfolk Police is on the trail of a missing child, 4 year old Scarlet Henderson, who has been snatched from her garden, the crime hauntingly reminiscent of another young girl, Lucy Downey who went missing ten years earlier when aged 5 and was never found.  The discovery of a child’s bones near the site of the spiritual ‘Seahenge leads to Ruth being called in by DCI Nelson to help date the bones to help identify them.  Rather than being of either recently missing girl, they turn out to be bones that date back over 2000 years to the Iron Age, but are still shrouded in mystery as to why they are at that location – were they a sacrifice?

And then, Ruth’s own hauntings begin, or rather tauntings, as letters start to arrive, texts that refer to Biblical passages and to themes relating to Norse mythology – something that a close friend of hers, Erik, has knowledge of, and something that leads them both to think back to a character who called himself ‘Cathbad’ who was a druid leader who fought to save ‘Seahenge’ being destroyed in the past.  A second child’s body is found and then, with the killer apparently aware that Ruth is working with the Police, she starts to receive text messages and then a very personal horror of her own right on her doorstep.

The mix of detective story, past crimes clashing against current crimes, and the always present hint of the mythological or supernatural, combined with a great central character provide here a very close comparison to the work of John Connolly.

The closing chapters are packed full of great atmosphere with the confusion and darkness of being lost on the saltmarshes in a terrific storm – the tension racking up and up, with only flashes of lightning to reveal the final moments between key players.

And, for all that, I loved it.

Keith

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Perfect People by Peter James

Published by Pan Macmillan.

After the runaway success of his crime series featuring Roy Grace, now at seven books and with a steadily growing audience,  Peter James has returned to his standalone format which he also served so well in the past before he turned to a life of crime (writing).

I loved all of Peter’s earlier works, The Host/Possession/The Alchemist etc and, despite really enjoying the Roy Grace novels, am pleased to see that he can still crack out a great one-off book whilst his series character has a brief rest.

Perfect People is truly the stuff of nightmares – nightmares and dreams of young parents.  What parent doesn’t wish for their child to be born free of any illnesses or genetic problems?  And, given the choice, don’t all parents want their children to be successful, talented and have a great capacity for learning?  Taking these two sets of hopes & dreams, Swedish scientist Dr John Klaesson and his wife Naomi are faced with a tough decision of their own.  Having lost their son, Halley, at an early age as a result of a bad gene that they carry, they are faced with the opportunity of enhancing the life and blocking bad genes with a selection process offered by Dr Leo Dettore on his off-shore hospital the Serendipity Rose.

The Doctor offers them, and other couples, the chance to select the sex of their child, genetic failings to block and areas to enhance – providing them with the opportunity to have another son, without the genetic problems, requiring less sleep and having enhanced learning abilities.

But, it will come as no surprise to anyone who has read any of the blurb on the book jacket, that things do not go entirely to plan when the Klaessons decide to go through with the procedure.

It’s difficult to add much more without a SPOILER alert, so if you want all the surprises stop reading at this point…..

Naomi falls pregnant, but it soon becomes apparent that she is carrying twins.  The pace then picks up as a race to hide away their family starts as other families who have gone through the same treatment are slaughtered in their homes by a sinister cult calling themselves ‘The Disciples of the Third Millennium’ who seemed set on destroying all of Dr Dettore’s creations and those who gave birth to them, citing them as the ‘Devil’s Spawn’.

Peter James’ interest in scientific advances has provided here a scary premise that is not so distant from a worrying reality.  We all want the best for our children, but in Perfect People he has illustrated just how badly that could turn out if we allow science to breed children who advance so much quicker than their parents.  With his usual great flair for creating characters we really care about, he places the reader right in the centre of all of the couple’s dilemmas and leaves us with a very thought-provoking tale right up to the final heartbreaking words.

A true morality tale to make readers ponder their lot, to be grateful for what they have and to fear taking risks with scientific advances that might change things for the better or for the worst.

A break from the series for Peter James, but another triumph!

Keith

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