Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Dark Pines by Will Dean

Dark Pines
by Will Dean
Published by Point Blank (4 January 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

Publisher's description
An isolated Swedish town.
A deaf reporter terrified of nature.
A dense spruce forest overdue for harvest.
A pair of eyeless hunters found murdered in the woods.

It’s week one of the Swedish elk hunt and the sound of gunfire is everywhere. When Tuva Moodyson investigates the story that could make her career she stumbles on a web of secrets that knit Gavrik town together. Are the latest murders connected to the Medusa killings twenty years ago? Is someone following her? Why take the eyes? Tuva must face her demons and venture deep into the woods to stop the killer and write the story. And then get the hell out of Gavrik.

My verdict
Dark Pines is an atmospheric whodunnit set in wintry Sweden.

This book was certainly a page-turner, with a plot that moved along at a steady pace, slower at first and then faster as the tension built up towards the end. The writing is stunning, with the depth of detail enhancing the story without detracting from it. Not only does the small cast of characters give the book a claustrophobic vibe, but vivid descriptions of the dark pine forests, and also the climate, create a chilling setting.

Bodies have been discovered with gunshot wounds and their eyes removed - the same as Medusa murders in the area in the 1990s. Is it the same killer or a copycat? Not all of the locals are happy about local journalist Tuva Moodyson investigating, dredging up the past and also potentially portraying the small close-knit town in a bad light. But Tuva is an independent and determined character.

Tuva's deafness gives her vulnerability, creating a sense of danger throughout the book. She has to rely on her sight when her hearing aid batteries are failing or when she removes them in the rain. Not ideal when you're stumbling in the darkness in wintry conditions, and also fear nature and the forest environment. I admit that I did get a little frustrated when the batteries kept failing and she didn't automatically have spares with her at all times - I would have expected this to be second nature to her. However, the details of her maintaining her hearing aids, and how she deals her deafness, were well-integrated into the story. And her deafness has certainly not held her back in any way.

The book features some very distinct quirky characters and also some very sinister ones - they are well described and well placed, bringing the whole book to life. All quite possibly could be the Medusa killer that Tuva (and the local police) are seeking. Like Tuva, I found myself stumbling around in the darkness as I tried to put together the clues.

Dark Pines kept me guessing, with some great twists, turns and red herrings. Suspense seeped through the pages. I predict lots of award nominations, shortlists and possibly top prizes for this book, with great times ahead. I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Claire Dyer's Writing Toolkit

WRITING TOOLKIT gives you an idea of an author's writing process through the tools they use. The tools can be anything (real or virtual) that they think is essential for their writing - serious, fun or even a fetish (that they're willing to own up to)! 

I am delighted to welcome 





The Last Day was published on 15 February 2018 by Dome Press. 

I swim every other morning and find it invaluable for clearing my head. As I swim, all I do is make sure I know which length I’m on and then let my mind wander. Many plot points or next sentences have come to me this way.

I don’t like noise when I’m writing: the best place for me would be a cottage on a remote hillside with only sheep for company. Unfortunately, real life isn’t like that and so I normally have to contend with building noise, traffic noise and when my husband is working from home, his music!

I couldn’t write without this. It’s been invaluable in getting me to sit up straight when I’m at my desk. 

I love that moment when the day is over, the house is quiet and I’m lying in bed staring into the dark. Like with swimming, these are the times that I see things more clearly and in the quiet, can listen to what my characters are telling me.

Facebook and Twitter
Keeping in touch with people on social media is such a comfort. Being able to provide support to others and seek it for myself reminds me that I’m part of one big writing community.

I obviously value my friends but I also love watching ‘Friends’ reruns on TV or, if I have a bit more time, I adore murder mysteries such as Morse, Lewis, Poirot, Foyles War, etc. For me, watching these programmes is like kicking off my shoes, getting under a blanket and having forty winks.

My characters
I couldn’t write without them. There’s that marvelous moment when I’m writing (at about 40,000 words) when they move in to my head and my heart and it’s almost as though they start dictating the plot. I see and hear them so clearly that when I reach ‘The End’ I find I mourn their going.

Boiled eggs and soldiers
This is what I promise myself after swimming and after a daily target of 1,600 words. If I’ve done both of these things and ‘Friends’ is on TV, making myself boiled eggs and soldiers is a little slice of heaven!


About Claire Dyer
Claire Dyer’s novels, The Moment and The Perfect Affair and her short story, Falling For Gatsby are published by Quercus.
Her poetry collections, Interference Effects and Eleven Rooms, are published by Two Rivers Press.
She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London and teaches creative writing for Bracknell & Wokingham College. She also runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service.
In 2016, Claire penned and performed a poem for National Poetry Day, called The Oracle, for BBC Radio Berkshire. 

Find Claire on her website, on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @ClaireDyer1

About The Last Day

Published by Dome Press (15 February 2018)

Publisher's description
Every ending starts with a beginning; every beginning, an end. 
Boyd and Vita have been separated for six years when Boyd asks if he can move back in to the house they both still own, bringing with him his twenty-seven-year-old girlfriend, Honey. 
Of course, Vita agrees: enough water has travelled under enough bridges since her marriage to Boyd ended and she is totally over him; nothing can touch her now. Boyd and Honey move in and everyone is happy - or so it seems.
However, all three are keeping secrets.

Here's a snippet of my review: 'This was one of those books that I had to read out loud at various points to appreciate the author's well-crafted words and beautifully observed character descriptions and interactions. It's tightly plotted, with a underlying sense of mystery about events to come.'

Read my full review here.

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Monday, 19 February 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Tim Baker

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


to share his BEST OF CRIME ...

It is astonishing to realise that Ross Macdonald’s series of books featuring P.I. Lew Archer (two of which were made into the Paul Newman Harper movies) began life 70 years ago. There is a freshness and modern relevance in his work that you just don’t find in the novels of his contemporaries – including Chandler and Hammett.
If Macdonald is the summit of the shamus, Patricia Highsmith is the highest peak of psychological suspense, whether in her best known novels such as Strangers on a Train or her unjustly lesser-known works, such as the superb, Mexican-set thriller, A Game for the Living.

From the stunning cinematography to the haunting theme, Chinatown is hard to beat, and even boasts the creepy presence of the man who invented the Private Eye movie, John Huston.
Out of the Past is a prime example of romantic, doomed existentialism, as is Sweet Smell of Success, with Sidney’s smug code for the completion of a successful crime, “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river”, one of film noir’s most memorable lines. 
But perhaps best of all is René Clément’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s masterpiece, with Alain Delon playing Tom Ripley in Plein Soleil (Purple Noon in English) – oh, that ending! 

The Sopranos and The Wire created the template for the contemporary crime saga. Breaking Bad broke ground with its superb character development and insanely good plotting. And Life on Mars was memorable for its humour and humanity.
But if I had to choose one show, it would be season one of True Detective. Everything about it felt epic, from the extraordinary six minute, single take, tracking shot in episode four to the dual themes of darkness and redemption and the relationship between Rust and Hart – best of enemies, worst of friends. Amazing.

Firstly, I personally prefer killers who remain safely fictional. Secondly, as much as I love Anthony Hopkins and Mads Mikkelsen as actors, I can’t get my head around Hannibal Lecter being this loveable, charismatic killer everyone wants to hang with – probably because I was never a fan of either fava beans or Chianti.

So, if you have to buddy up with a killer, you better find one who’s fun to be around. Enter the perfect insane killer companion: Emilio Largo from Ian Fleming’s Thunderball. He has a cool eyepatch, a girlfriend called Domino, a villa in Nassau and spends his days tooling around in a souped-up super yacht called the Disco Volante – what’s not to like? Plus if you hang with him long enough, you’ll end up meeting James Bond… or at least Austin Powers

Special agents Dana Scully (X-Files), Clarice Starling (The Silence of the Lambs) and Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks) are all top-drawer, kick-ass investigators – but they also all work for the Bureau – not my favourite outfit (J Edgar was a nasty character in my novel, Fever City).

So I’m going for an old-fashioned, independent detective, Hercule Poirot: a brilliant mind, a seeker of truth and justice, and an amusing and generous companion. He is also that most undervalued of persons at the moment: a European resident of the UK. I can only imagine how hurt he would have been by the Brexit vote. Mon Dieu, even his little grey cells would short-circuit trying to understand that mess.

If Monsieur Poirot were to be deported back to Belgium, I’d choose The Dude from The Big Lebowski – provided that someone would promise to rescue me after three days in his company. Nothing much would get solved with the Dude around, but at least there’d be good music, plenty of bowling and more White Russians than you could shake a Persian rug at. 

I was about seven years old when I heard my mother cry out in shock, and then, inexplicably, start laughing. I ran into the lounge room just in time to see the already familiar figure of Alfred Hitchcock intoning his farewells on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The TV episode in question was called Lamb to the Slaughter and was written by Roald Dahl. There may possibly be a better murder weapon in crime fiction, but there has never been a better means of disposing of one. 

The best death scene I can recall is actually a near miss: the almost assassination of President Charles de Gaulle in The Day of the Jackal. It is as if all of Frederick Forsyth’s brilliant attention to the minutiae of French life and society has been in service to this one, brilliant scene. 

Twitter is great if you’re just starting out writing: it not only offers you direct insight into what agents and editors are currently looking for, it also affords an opportunity to interact with other crime writers – who tend to be a pretty congenial bunch. Just don’t forget to mute the accounts of Donald Trump, Morrissey and Katie Hopkins first. 

Never Plan Your Books. A crime novel is an investigation; a search for meaning and truth – and that search begins with the writer. Never be afraid to stumble along in the dark, follow red herrings, or get cold sweats when you run into a dead-end alley. So what if sometimes you’ll find yourself contemplating arson with your very own manuscript? The chills and thrills you’ll get flying blind will translate into your work – and remember: if something doesn’t make sense, you can always fix it in the end! It’s called cheating and no one’s ever going to catch you as long as you wear gloves, cover your tracks, and avoid using your credit card close to the crime scene. 

Snacks are indispensable as I tend to forget to eat lunch when I’m writing. In summer, it’s unsalted cashews and rosé. In winter, Russian Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate. Life is too short and your editor isn’t going to be kind to you, so pamper yourself a little! 

Born in Sydney, Tim Baker has lived in Rome, Madrid and Paris and currently lives in the South of France with his wife, their son, and two rescue animals, a dog and a cat. His debut novel, the neo-noir thriller, Fever City, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger award and Highly Commended for the CWA Debut Dagger award, and was also nominated for The Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus award for best first novel. He was named as an 'Author to Watch More Closely in the Future' by J Kingston Pierce in Kirkus Reviews

Find Tim Baker on Twitter - @TimBakerWrites


Publisher's description
In Ciudad Real, Mexico, a deadly war between rival cartels is erupting, and hundreds of female sweat-shop workers are being murdered. As his police superiors start shutting down his investigation, Fuentes suspects most of his colleagues are on the payroll of narco kingpin, El Santo. Meanwhile, despairing union activist, Pilar, decides to take social justice into her own hands. But if she wants to stop the killings, she’s going to have to ignore all her instincts and accept the help of Fuentes. When the name of Mexico’s saintly orphan rescuer, Padre Márcio, keeps resurfacing, Pilar and Fuentes begin to realise how deep the cover-up goes. 

City Without Stars was published by Faber & Faber on 11 January 2018.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

By Dirk Kurbjuweit
Published by Orion (25 January 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.

Publisher's description
You'd die for your family. But would you kill for them?
Family is everything. So what if yours was being terrorised by a neighbour - a man who doesn't listen to reason, whose actions become more erratic and sinister with each passing day? And those you thought would help - the police, your lawyer - can't help you.
You become afraid to leave your family at home alone. But there's nothing more you can do to protect them.
Is there?

My verdict
Fear isn't what I expected and I admit that I wasn't sure about it at first. Yet the more I read, the more intrigued I became. What turns a mild-mannered non-confrontational man to take action to protect his family? This is definitely a book to make you think and read between the lines. A book that's designed to provoke a reaction and stimulate plenty of discussion.

This isn't a fast-paced all-action thriller or even an emotional psychological thriller. Instead, it's a discussion about the psychology of fear, violence and stalking. It covers other themes too, such as how childhood trauma can impact on adult behaviour, and also focuses on the class divide - the narrator's contempt for his poor neighbour and the neighbour's contempt for the wealthy family above him.

The narration reveals the inner turmoil of a family in crisis, unsure what to do and not wanting to make a fuss. Believing their lives are in danger, the family doesn't know who to turn to when the police and law won't - or can't - help.

The book is fiction but is based on real life, which is maybe why it did seem so real. But while I was right inside the narrator's head, I found him very matter of fact about the events that affected his family. The author reveals in an introduction to the book that he didn't want to write about his own family's experiences (which were, in some ways, similar to those of his narrator). He had deliberately waited a while before writing the novel, so perhaps he didn't invest emotionally in his story so that he didn't dredge up the past. The book is translated from German, so I also wondered whether some of the sensitivity and emotion was lost during the translation process.

I think that Fear is going to be a book that people will either love or hate. It's uncomfortable and disturbing reading at times, leaving me wondering 'what would I do' in those circumstances. So rather than expecting a high-octane action-packed rollercoaster read, be prepared for a book that will challenge your moral compass.

The Last Day by Claire Dyer

The Last Day 
By Claire Dyer
Published by Dome Press (15 February 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher 

Publisher's description
Every ending starts with a beginning; every beginning, an end. 
Boyd and Vita have been separated for six years when Boyd asks if he can move back in to the house they both still own, bringing with him his twenty-seven-year-old girlfriend, Honey. 
Of course, Vita agrees: enough water has travelled under enough bridges since her marriage to Boyd ended and she is totally over him; nothing can touch her now. Boyd and Honey move in and everyone is happy - or so it seems.
However, all three are keeping secrets.

My verdict
The Last Day is an emotional read with flowing poetic prose. This was one of those books that I had to read out loud at various points to appreciate the author's well-crafted words and beautifully observed character descriptions and interactions. It's tightly plotted, with a underlying sense of mystery about events to come.

The story focuses on three main characters - Vita, her estranged husband Boyd and his young girlfriend Honey. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but this book isn't a love triangle. It's told in the first person through Vita's eyes and through both Boyd and Honey in the third person. Yet through the author's beautiful writing, I felt that I got to know the characters equally well - their thoughts, beliefs and inner turmoil. I was living their lives with them.

The Last Day is a story of relationships, love and marriage, grief, loss and tragedy, life's ups and downs, secrets, deception and lies. It's very much a story of people, rather than places, and is heartbreaking, compassionate and poignant. It's about who we love and how we love. What drives us and what breaks us. How secrets, and life events, can make us stronger but also weaken us. As the book evolves, secrets bubbling under the surface gradually spreading their wings towards the final page.

The Last Day reminded me of the importance of living each day to the full, as we never know what's coming next. No day can be like the previous ones as our lives are constantly changing, and every day influences the days ahead of us - for better or for worse.

I recently found these two quotes on 'last days'. Which path in life one do you follow?

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Thursday, 15 February 2018

BEST OF CRIME with James Nally

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


to share his BEST OF CRIME ...

Tana French, such relatable characters and a mistress of suspense. (Oh and she’s Irish and I’m biased!) 
Roger Hobbs, completely reinvented the genre, puts my research efforts to shame.
Raymond Chandler, for wanting me to be Marlowe.
Patrick McCabe, not crime per se but so many bad things happen. Dark, twisted yet hilarious. 

The Guard, hilarious, chilling and surreal. I love the combination of humour and gore.
Down by Law, beautifully-crafted, acted but forget all that, it’s got Tom Waits!
The Long Good Friday, Bob Hoskins proving that small men are indeed scarier. 

Unforgiven, what a cast, and a lesson in how to interweave disparate stories while keeping the viewer hooked.
River, a series that had the balls to feature a detective interacting with a dead former partner. The finale is one of the TV moments of the decade.
Born to Kill, shows what a brilliant documentary maker like Bruce Goodison can bring to drama. 

Fowler in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. There is something really appealing to me about a person who murders someone else for the greater good.
Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
Lou Ford, the original and baddest ‘bad lieutenant’ in Jim Thompson’s ‘Killer Inside Me’.  

Philip Marlowe, of course.  

I’ve always liked a blade fashioned out of ice, so that you can melt the evidence! 

In the late 1990s, the IRA developed a ‘flashgun’ detonation system whereby the flash of a camera would set off a semtex bomb. An IRA unit abducted a milkman, murdered him and left his body in the dim, unlit hallway of a house alongside what looked like six cartons of milk.  Except the cartons had been stuffed full of semtex. The hallway and house was full of police officers and forensics when the scenes-of-crime officer arrived and took out his camera… 

The frankly amazing website listing every murder for decades. Clipshare provides newspaper cuttings going back to 2006.  Bridey-by-the-Sea, my partner’s blog, which contains uplifting copy and some of the best photos I’ve ever seen of the south coast and Brighton. 

Don’t be fussy about the first draft; get it down! Writing is re-writing. Use everything you can from your own life and experiences. You don’t know how amazing you are! 

Water, Tunnock caramel bars (I consume a good portion of the 6 million bars they claim to sell every week!), pistachios, post 6pm Peroni, post 9pm Shiraz. 


James Nally is an ex-crime reporter and award-winning film-maker whose crime fiction books ‘Alone with the Dead’ and ‘Dance with the Dead’ have been described as ‘intoxicating’, ‘hilarious’ and ‘gripping’ by the Sun and Mirror newspapers.
His third book, ‘Games with the Dead’ sees rookie Irish cop Donal Lynch stumble across a nexus of crime involving bent cops, notorious villains and a morally-bankrupt reporter. When his personal life falls apart, Donal agrees to take on a Kamikaze undercover caper in an attempt to smash the ring, only to find himself being set up to get whacked.  

Find James Nally on his Facebook page and on Twitter - @jimnally


Publisher's description
Life is about to get complicated for DC Donal Lynch.
When a young woman is kidnapped, Donal is brought in to deliver the ransom money. But the tightly-planned drop off goes wrong, Julie Draper is discovered dead, and Donal finds his job on the line – a scapegoat for the officers in charge.
But when Donal is delivered a cryptic message in the night, he learns that Julie was killed long before the botched rescue mission. As he digs further into the murder in a bid to clear his own name, dark revelations make one thing certain: the police are chasing the wrong man, and the killer has far more blood on his hands than they could even imagine.

Games with the Dead was published by Avon on 28 December 2017.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.