The Two O’Clock Boy is coming…

If there’s one thing we’ve learned this week, ladies and gentlemen, it’s that change is inevitable.

Thing is, Crime Thriller Fella has got a few more things up his sleeve, but between you and me the long-term prognosis is, frankly, not very encouraging. He’s reviewed a few books, he’s done a few intel interviews, spoke about himself in the third person in a highly-affected way and filled his site with as much filler as is decent.

Yonks ago he mentioned he had a book deal, and then it all went silent — because there was work to do. But there’s a cover now, and it’s a cracker. You can see it in the wonderful gif below. The Two O’Clock Boy, the first of a series featuring North London coppers DI Ray Drake and DS Flick Crowley, is coming on November 17, 2016, published by Sphere Books.

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At some point, Crime Thriller Fella will cease to be. He will an ex-blogger. There will be a website markhillauthor.com – you can find a better shot of the cover and a synopsis of the book there already, should you want to do the business with the mouse – and you’ll find all the content here over there, and more. There’ll be a bit of a blogging aspect on occasion, yes, but you’ll also find news and events and covers and stuff about Drake and Crowley. You know, it’ll be a proper author site, sort of thing.

So I’m giving you fair warning. Crime Thriller Fella is not long for this world.

But, don’t worry, you’re in safe hands, you’ll have me instead.

My name is Mark Hill, and I’m an author. Pleased to meet you.

The Intel: Stephen Booth

9780316743297 (532x800)A sense of place is as important in crime novels as the characters, and the extraordinary landscape of the Peak District permeates every sentence of Stephen Booth’s hugely-popular Cooper and Fry series. In the latest, Secrets Of Death, Booth writes about a bizarre string of suicides in the area.

When Roger Farrell is found dead by his own hand in a car overlooking the beautiful Heeley Bank, he is the latest in a long line of people who have come to the Peak District to die. Although DI Ben Cooper is reluctant to use the phrase ‘suicide tourism’, he is aware that the rate of suicides in the area is sharply increasing. And a number of them, like Farrell, are in possession of a business card that simply says The Secrets Of Death.

Is somebody ‘managing’ these suicides? And how would Cooper even define this crime? Unfortunately, the one survivor is refusing to cooperate with the police, and leads are thin on the ground. The answer may lie with Cooper’s prickly former colleague Diane Fry, who had been about to arrest Roger Farrell before his death. Can the two of them find whoever is coordinating the suicides before more people die?

Secrets Of Death is the 16th in this incredibly popular series of crime novels. Booth is a generous and engaging interviewee, and in this fascinating intel he tells us about the evolution of his characters, about ‘suicide tourism’ and his beloved Peak District — and something of an expert on the subject, he reveals the secret personalities of goats…

Tell us about Ben Cooper and Diane Fry…

I conceived these two characters as young and junior police detectives, in a reaction to all the middle-aged alcoholic loners I was reading about in crime fiction back in the 1990s. Ben Cooper is the local boy who grew in the Peak District and knows everyone. He’s from a farming family and has a real love for the area and its way of life. Diane is the outsider, a city girl and completely out of her element in a rural setting. She’s rather a damaged person who’s developed a protective shell because of what’s happened to her in the past. Ben is a character everyone loves because he has such humanity and compassion. The relationship between the two characters started off quite badly in the first book, ‘Black Dog’, and has become more and more complex ever since.

How have the characters changed since the series began?

Ben Cooper was very young and immature in the early books. But he made the break from his family and moved away from the farm, and we’ve watched him steadily mature over the course of the series. He’s been through a major personal trauma, and he’s also been promoted a couple of times so he’s now a detective inspector with responsibilities for his team. Diane Fry seemed like a high flier in the beginning and was very ambitious. But she was distracted from her ambitions (largely by her unpredictable sister Angie), and one day she realised Cooper was leaving her behind. To some extent, they’ve gone separate ways, but they both remain very conflicted over their relationship.

Secrets of Death tackles the subject of ‘suicide tourism’ – what is that?

Many people have a favourite location they like to spend time in. One day, I was looking at some benches installed at a Peak District viewpoint overlooking a stunning landscape. Each one had a plaque commemorating a deceased person who was said to have loved that particular spot. It occurred to me that if you’d decided to take your own life and you were planning it carefully, as some people do, you might choose to do it at your favourite spot and spend the last moments of your life looking at that spectacular view. That’s how I came up with the concept of ‘suicide tourism’. Ben Cooper and his team from Edendale CID are faced with a spate of such suicides. They don’t know where the next dead body will turn up, though it’s bound to be at a tourist hotspot. It isn’t doing the tourism industry much good! And of course there’s the question of whether one of those deaths wasn’t actually a suicide at all…

9780751559989How much does the mysterious character of the Peak District permeate your books?

I think of the Peak District as beautiful but dangerous. It was the perfect setting for the type of book I wanted to create. I was interested in writing about a rural area, but giving my books a darker feel and dealing with serious contemporary subjects. I recall a line from a Sherlock Holmes story, in which Holmes tells Dr Watson: “There is more evil in the smiling and beautiful countryside than in the vilest alleys of London”. That pretty much sums up the idea. The Peak District is full of wonderfully atmospheric locations, along with thousands of years of history and all the legends and folklore that go with it.

I was intrigued by the two distinct geological halves of the Peak District, known as the White Peak and Dark Peak, which are very different in character. The white and dark seemed to me to symbolise good and evil, right there in the landscape. This is also one of the most visited national parks in the world because of the cities all around it, creating conflict between millions of visitors and the people who actually live and work there. Sometimes the landscape plays a physical role in my books. The hills can be very dangerous, and people sometimes disappear or meet an unexplained death. In one book, Dead and Buried, the backdrop is of raging moorland fires, which is almost like a vision of Hell.

What are your favourite locations for your novels?

There are so many fascinating and quirky places in the Peak District. One Last Breath is set around one of the my favourite locations, the small town of Castleton. It’s in limestone country and sits on top of thirteen miles of caverns, some of which are open to the public. Frankly, there’s nothing more frightening than a deep, narrow cave in complete darkness! And there are some very creepy stories about the Peak Cavern system. I also think of the ‘plague village’ of Eyam, which features in The Kill Call. It’s become a macabre tourist attraction, with people going to look at plaques listing the names of people who died there from an outbreak of bubonic plague. They even sell souvenir plastic rats in the visitor centre!

You breed pedigree dairy goats – – what kind of personalities do goats have?

Sadly, we no longer have the goats, though we did breed them for a number of years. I always found them fascinating animals. They’re very intelligent and independent-minded (unlike sheep), and they have a wicked sense of humour. They relate to people very well, and our goats always loved being taken to shows, where they had a wonderful time showing off to the public. Remarkably, they’re also more productive than cows, size for size, and their milk is much better for people who can’t take cows’ milk. I do miss not having them any more!

How did you start writing?

I started writing stories when I was very young – pretty much as soon as I could read, I think. I went on to produce my first novel when I was 12 years old. I’m sure it was quite a short novel, and it was about astronauts landing on a planet and meeting aliens (well, it was the 1960s!). But from the moment I finished it, I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. Obviously, you can’t just leave school and become a novelist, so I figured out the way to earn a living by writing was to be a newspaper journalist. I did that for a long time, but I gave it up and I’ve made my living from writing crime novels for the past 16 years or so. So I suppose I’ve always been a writer.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Taking criticism is hard for a lot of writers. But I learned about it very early on. I’ve got an older brother, who read that first novel I wrote when I was 12 – and he was so disparaging about it that he remains the worst critic I’ve ever head! But I wasn’t discouraged by his harsh comments. And I think it was great experience for me to learn about taking criticism at such an early age. It doesn’t bother me now.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

There are many of them. I was a huge fan of crime fiction as a reader before I started writing the Cooper & Fry series. One of my great heroes was Ruth Rendell, who was capable of subverting the conventions of the genre. She was constantly able to come up with something new and exciting right to the end. I thought Reginald Hill was a great writer too, and I also like John Harvey, Peter Robinson – in fact anything with a really strong, believable central character.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read a lot, keep writing – and never stop!

What’s next for you?

I’m starting work on a new Cooper & Fry novel, which will be the 17th in the series. But I don’t have a title yet!

***

Secrets Of Death is out right now, published by Sphere in hardback.

The Intel: Susanna Gregory

9780099443513Susanna Gregory fans are in heaven right now. Last week saw the publication of two Matthew Bartholomew novels. A Grave Concern was published in hardback and A Poisonous Plot in paperback. By my reckoning, that’s her 21st and 22nd books in the series.

Set in the aftermath of the Great Plague in 14th Century Cambridge — a time of great social unrest among the devastated population – her protag Matthew Bartholomew is a fictional physician. He’s the master at the College of Michaelhouse at the University of Cambridge, where he teaches medicine. In A Poisonous Plot, he takes on an arrogant physician as a mysterious contagion afflicts Cambridge, and in A Grave Concern, the election of a new chancellor at the college gets very nasty indeed.

A former policewoman in Leeds, Susanna pursued a career in academia which, she says, exposed her to the political manoeuvring, infighting, and eccentricity that fuelled her writing. Susanna is also the creator of the Thomas Chaloner series of mysteries set in Restoration London.

Crime Thriller Fella is delighted Susanna has agreed to give us the intel on Bartholomew, the plague and the perennial allure of medieval murder…

Tell us about Matthew Bartholomew…

Bartholomew is a physician living in Cambridge in the mid-fourteenth century. He’s also a Fellow of Michaelhouse, which was one of eight Colleges in the University at the time.

How has the character developed since you began writing about him?

That’s hard to say without re-reading the first book! However, he’s twelve years older than when he started, and I’ve tried to make him learn from his mistakes. He’s certainly more cautious about leaping into danger now he’s no longer quite so young (well, aren’t we all?). At the beginning, I had him as something of a maverick in the medical world, with wild theories about hygiene and surgery. He still holds those opinions, but is now far more cautious about expressing them, and even acknowledges that astrology may have its place in a patient’s mental wellbeing. I hope he’s older, wiser and more mature, but I really think that’s for the reader to decide.

9780751549799The series is based in the aftermath of the Great Plague – what kind of a society was it?

Crikey! Books have been written on this, so it’s hard to answer in a couple of paragraphs! But briefly, was the plague a good thing or a bad one? The jury is out, as academics have made good arguments for both sides of the debate, based on their assessments of the contemporary written evidence.

On the one hand, there had been a huge population increase just before the plague, and there were reports of famine, particularly when poor harvests failed to supply towns and cities with food. Lots of communities were being founded on scrubby land, because all the fertile areas were already taken. So the plague eliminated between a third and half the population, meaning there was more good land for the survivors. There was a shortage of manual labourers after the plague, too, which meant that peasants had their wealthy landlords over a barrel. Standards of living rose for the next twenty years — until the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 brought matters to a head, and reversed the trend.

On the other hand, whole communities were wiped out permanently, and there was a terrible fear that it would happen again. People’s faith in God and the Church wavered, especially as the plague took plenty of priests — the Dominicans in Cambridge, who bravely tended the sick and dying, were all but wiped out. If priests weren’t safe, then who was? There can have been very few people who didn’t suffer loss of loved ones, so the aftermath must have been socially and psychologically devastating.

What can we learn from the 14th Century – are there any similarities with our own?

Thankfully, not many! Medicine has improved somewhat, and so has hygiene. Our houses have heating, drains and running water, and buying a loaf of bread from a shop is a lot easier than growing your own grain, getting it milled, making dough, then taking it to a baker to get it cooked. Then there are the little things. In the fourteenth century, when the Sun went down, it was dark. Candles were expensive (and most of them smoked horribly), so winter nights were probably long and tiresome. There were no street lights to see you home from the tavern, and the roads were treacherously uneven. People were thus very much aware of the phases of the Moon — today, not many folk notice it at all, unless it’s particularly bright or unusually coloured — and the seasons. We get strawberries all year round, but they had them in the summer. Of course, they probably tasted a lot better then …

In all, it’s a lot better to be alive now than then, and while I occasionally think I’d like to be transported back there to see it for myself, I wouldn’t go unless I was assured that I could come back again!

Can we learn anything from the fourteenth century? I’m sure we could learn lots, but the main thing for me is the pace of life. It was slower then, with less dashing about. That isn’t a bad thing.

The series is set in the College of Michaelhouse at the University of Cambridge – why is academia such a ripe territory for murder?

Perhaps because there’s nothing more deadly than an intelligent person with time on his hands and a grudge.

How did you start writing?

It was one summer in the dim and distant past, when my husband had gone to Canada on an archaeological dig. I found myself with a few relatively quiet weeks, and so just decided to put fingers to keyboard. I wrote A Plague on Both your Houses, because I was interested in medieval Cambridge, and the College that no longer exists. I enjoyed writing it so much that I wrote another two books in the same series. It was a lot of fun.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That bad reviews can be hurtful. You just have to tell yourself that they’re only the opinion of one person, and then think about the many charming, friendly and encouraging messages you’ve had through the years from readers. After all, they are the ones whose opinions really count.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

There are so many — all my fellow Medieval Murderers for a start. Mike Jecks, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson, Chris Sansom, Karen Maitland and Philip Gooden are passionate about what they do, and they are all painstaking with the details of their research. I’ve learned a lot from them.

I also love Patrick O’Brien. Someone once told me that his books were “Jane Austen at sea”. What more could a reader ask for?

Unknown.jpegGive me some advice about writing…

There’s no such thing as writers’ block. If you feel uninspired, write through it — just get something, anything, down on the screen. It may be rubbish that you later delete, but it will get you over the hump and move you on with the story.

The other thing I would say is that you should write for yourself. Write want you want to write, not what you feel the publisher, agent, reader or reviewer would like. It’s just more enjoyable that way, and a good editor will always help you to smooth out any problems afterwards.

What’s next for you?

Today? A nice cup of coffee in the garden in company with my beloved chickens. There’s something incredibly relaxing about watching Ethel and her flock going about their daily round of scratching, sunbathing, taking dust baths and hunting for worms. I often get ideas for books when I’m sitting doing nothing with them. It’s like having my batteries recharged.

***

A Grave Concern in hardback and A Poisonous Plot in paperback, are available right now, published by Sphere.

The Intel: CJ Lyons

CJLyonsbookphotoLOResCJ Lyons is the bestselling author of seven Lucy Guardino thrillers, and the latest, Last Light, sees her heroine leaving the FBI to join the Beacon Group, a firm that specializes in cold cases and brings justice to forgotten victims.

Lucy is partnered with TK O’Connor, an army veteran struggling with her transition to ordinary life and they’re soon led to rural Texas to investigate their first case: the murder of Lily Martin and her young child in 1987. The convicted killers have been behind bars for the past twenty-nine years. But who really killed Lily Martin and her infant daughter? And what price will Lucy pay to expose a truth people will kill to keep buried?

CJ is a paediatric ER doctor turned New York Times bestselling author of twenty-nine novels — her ‘Thrillers With A Heart’ have notched up with sales of over 2 million. She’s assisted police and prosecutors with cases and has worked in numerous trauma centres, on a Navajo reservation, as a crisis counsellor, victim advocate, as well as a flight physician for Life Flight and Stat Medevac.

She’s had a fascinating career, as a medic and a novelist, and in this insightful intel interview CJ discusses her indomitable heroine, our fascination with cold cases, how she picked herself up when her dream debut ended in disaster, and the piece of writing advice that Jeffery Deaver gave her…

Tell us about Lucy Guardino…

I created Lucy because I was tired of reading thrillers featuring female FBI agents who were driven by angst, fleeing demons, fighting addiction, stalked by serial killers, or with dark, forbidden secrets, etc.–all things that would never allow them to do their job effectively in the real world.

As a woman who has always worked in a male dominated field (Emergency Medicine), I wanted to create a main character I could relate to. Someone facing the same kind of struggles balancing work and family and who felt “real.”

So, I thought, why not go as real as it gets? How about a Pittsburgh soccer mom, who has a loving and supportive family? No angst, no dark past, no addictions or demons… Just the very real need to do her job the best she can while also giving her family as much love and attention as possible.

Of course, I can’t go too easy on her, so during her early adventures with the FBI, I give her the worst possible job, tracking pedophiles and sex offenders. The fact that she happens to be good at it only makes her life more complicated because she fights a constant battle of protecting her family from her work.

How has Lucy changed over the course of your novels about her…

One of the comments I hear frequently from readers is that they love Lucy because she is so very human in the way she’s grown over the course of the series. Snake Skin, her first adventure, focused on the almost universal tension that adults face, juggling family and work. And when your work is saving lives and chasing down the worst of the worst, how can you say no?

Each novel is different, from dark psychological suspense in Blood Stained, to action-adventure in Kill Zone, to a set-in-real-time fight for her life in After Shock, and the consequences of that fight in Hard Fall. With each challenge she faces, each mistake as well as each triumph, Lucy has paid a price, and come away with a better understanding of herself.

I think the novel that best reveals this is Hard Fall, which won the International Thriller Writers’ 2015 Thriller Award. It was by far the most difficult book I’ve ever tackled, featuring a survivor of childhood sexual abuse without ever showing any of the violence she suffered on the page—instead, I focused on the psychological ramifications that impacted her life. Parallel to her story is Lucy’s own struggle with the trauma she’s suffered and the choices she faces about her own future, not just her career but her physical and mental well-being along with her family’s needs.

Last Light sees Lucy starting a new life with an organization which investigates Cold Cases – why are we as readers so obsessed with unsolved historical murders?

I think readers enjoy reading about cold cases because as humans we hate it when chaos wins out over justice. And, at least here in the US, unsolved murders remind us that there are places where killers can get away with murder — not because law enforcement is incompetent in any way, but simply because they are overworked and underfunded with huge swathes of land to cover with minimal manpower. We sleep better at night believing justice is served.

Last_Light-crop-smallYou’ve described your novels as Thrillers With Heart – what do you mean by that?

I never enjoyed the thriller novels that treated characters like they were just along for the ride or that featured gratuitous sex and violence without any emotional honesty to give them real impact. Like many authors, I’m more interested in the grey spaces between the black and white of good and evil than I am the car chases and explosions, so I created the term “Thrillers with Heart” to describe my particular brand of crime fiction. They combine the fast-paced adrenaline rush expected from a thriller with an exploration of the emotions that come from exposure to violence.

Your first publishing deal ended in disaster – tell us what happened…

My first medical thriller, Nerves Of Steel, was bought by a major US publisher in a pre-empt and seemed to be destined to be my dream debut: hardcover, endorsements from a dozen NYT Bestsellers, great pre-sales…until, due to factors totally beyond my control (cover art issues), it was cancelled a few weeks prior to its scheduled release.

Pfft, no more dream debut, no more contracts…In fact, I would have to fight to get my rights back after my original agent left me high and dry.

Plus, when my debut was cancelled, I’d already left my medical practice and so was unemployed for the first time since I was 15. But after a few days feeling sorry for myself, I realized that the best thing I could do if I wanted to make my dream of becoming a published author come true was to keep writing.

While I worked on a new book, I fought to get my rights back from that first publisher. (In fact, I went on to self-publish Nerves Of Steel, which became a bestseller, and due to reader demand has led to three sequels, Sleight Of Hand, Face To Face, and Eye Of The Storm.) It was rough going, but I kept writing.

Two weeks after I won that battle and received my rights back, a publisher with Penguin/Putnam called and asked if I’d like to create a new medical suspense series targeting women readers, along the lines of Grey’s Anatomy meets ER. Of course I said yes and sat down to write Lifelines, my first bestseller.

Oh, and just to show that karma has a sense of humor, the book I wrote after being ditched by my first publisher? Blind Faith, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list…

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

The hardest lesson for me came after that first disaster of losing my dream debut to forces beyond my control. I learned that no one — not my publisher, editor, or agent — was more invested than the success of my novels than I was. So I had to learn how to become my own champion, which meant learning the business.

As a pediatrician, I’ve never run a business, so I threw myself into learning everything I could about marketing, branding, copy writing, audience demographics, profit/loss statements, contracts, etc. Soon I knew more about my audience than my publishers!

I realized that if you want to become a career novelist, you need to take control of the business side of things because you are actually CEO of a Global Media Empire. Your publishers (I’ve worked with most of the major US publishers as well as almost two dozen more around the globe) are your partners, not your patrons. You need to be clear about what you bring to that partnership and what they have to offer and be ready to walk away from any contract that isn’t serving your readers.

When it comes to business, my mantra is: “good” isn’t good enough for my readers, they deserve “great!”

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Ray Bradbury had the greatest influence on me as a child. He was the first author who taught me that the words themselves can be as beautiful as the pictures they create and worlds they build. I love the way he can evoke emotion on a very subliminal level. I also adore Mark Helprin, Alice Hoffman, and Tana French among others.

Give me some advice about writing…

The best piece of advice for either my writing or my business came from Jeffery Deaver. We were sitting together at an awards banquet (we both won, which was fun) and I asked him what his best words of wisdom were. He told me: Never forget, the reader is god.

In other words, think about the reader with every decision.

Unsure about a plot twist? Will your readers love it?

Should you spend your time tweeting or writing the next book? Write the next book, of course—that’s what your readers want.

What will make your readers excited, delighted, and ready to tell their friends about your books?

Once you keep that vision in mind, your path becomes so much easier, profitable, and much more fun!

What’s next for you?

I’m currently putting the final polish on Lucy’s next adventure, Devil Smoke. It deals with obsession, grief, and denial, featuring a woman who has lost her life to amnesia and Lucy’s team’s efforts to help her. Of course, the twists and turns lead back to a cold case that hits much too close to home. It’s due out July 25, 2016.

***

Last Light by CJ Lyons is published by Canelo, priced £3.99 in eBook.

 

Crime News: CrimeFest Bristol Giveaway

CrimeFest kicks off next week in Bristol, but this Saturday the city’s libraries will be giving away tons of free – yes, free – crime novels, including some by old friends of this blog, including Catherine Ryan Howard, GJ Minett and Robert Olen Butler.

I’m a busy man, you’ve got things to do, so let’s allow an official press release to inform us of the details without delay:

images.pngAs part of CrimeFest’s passion for promoting crime fiction, the UK’s biggest crime fiction convention has teamed up with publishers, including Headline and Orion, authors and Bristol Libraries to give away 1000 crime novels for free on Saturday, 14 May, one week ahead of the crime fiction festival. The organisers are donating to Bristol, a city that has hosted the UK’s biggest crime fiction convention for eight years. Thirteen publishers have generously donated books from over twenty authors to this crime fiction giveaway being hosted at six libraries around Bristol.

Bristol locals will be treated to advanced reader copies from bestselling authors like Megan Abbott – months before they hit the shops, as well as titles from highly acclaimed debut novelists Michelle Kirkby and BBC screenwriter Simon Booker. In addition, Allison & Busby are providing several classic titles from celebrated crime fiction writer Alexander Wilson.

 

The libraries taking part are:

  • Bristol Central Library, College Green BS13 5TL
  • Bedminster, St Peters Court, Bedminster, BS3 4AQ
  • Clifton Library, Princess Victoria St, BS8 4BX
  • Junction 3 Library, Baptist Mills, Easton, BS5 0FJ
  • Wick Road Library, Brislington, BS4 4HE
  • Southmead Library, Greystoke Roads, BS10 6AS

The authors and publishers taking part in the giveaway are:

  • Megan Abbott – You Will Know Me (Picador)
  • Stefan Anheim – Victim Without A Face (Head of Zeus)
  • Harry Bingham – This Thing Of Darkness (Orion)
  • A.P. McCoy – Narrowing The Field (Orion)
  • Michelle Birkby – The House At Baker Street (Pan)
  • Simon Booker – Without Trace (Twenty7)
  • G.J. Minett – The Hidden Legacy (Twenty7)
  • Robert Olen Butler – The Hot Country (No Exit Press)
  • R.M. Cartmel – The Charlemagne Connection (Crime Scene Books)
  • R.M. Cartmel – The Richebourg Affair (Crime Scene Books)
  • Michael Cayzer – 50 Miles From Anywhere (Crime Scene Books)
  • Rosie Claverton – Captcha Thief (Crime Scene Books)
  • Stephen Davis – The Tsar’s Banker (Crime Scene Books)
  • Nadia Dalbuono – The Few (Scribe)
  • E.M. Davey – Foretold By Thunder (Duckworth)
  • Catherine Ryan Howard – Distress Signals (Corvus)
  • Holly Seddon – Try Not To Breath (Corvus)
  • Anna Mazzola – The Unseeing (Headline)
  • Mark Mills – Where Dead Men Meet (Headline)
  • G.X. Todd – Defender (Headline)
  • Stuart Neville – So Say The Fallen (Harvill Secker)
  • Alexander Wilson – The Devil’s Cocktail (Allison & Busby)
  • Alexander Wilson – The Mystery Of Tunnel 51 (Allison & Busby)
  • Alexander Wilson – Wallace Of The Secret Service (Allison & Busby)

Peter James, Anne Holt, Ian Rankin and Hugh Fraser are among the top names set to speak at this year’s CrimeFest convention. Close to 500 attendees, including more than 150 authors, agents, publishers and crime fiction fans from across the globe, will descend on the city for a jam packed four days of 65 speaking events and panel discussions.

The CrimeFest programme includes a full schedule of panel events covering everything from a mock-trial debating the hotly contested conviction of Steven Avery in Making A Murderer, to panels discussing topics such as ‘Crimes Against Humanity: Terrorism, War and International Intrigue’ and ‘Deadly Dames: Women As Killers, Investigators And Victims’

The Intel: Michael Kurland

Kurland-210You’re way too young to remember the Thirties — I mean, look how young and vibrant you are — but you probably know it was a hell of a time for crime fiction in the US. Think Chandler and Hammett, and Cornell Woolwich and James M. Cain. But it was also a time of glamour, of Broadway chorus girls and Jazz Clubs and the Algonquin set.

In his second Alexander Brass novel, The Girls In The High-Heeled Shoes, Michael Kurland’s newspaper columnist protag Alexander Brass and sidekick Morgan Dewitt investigate a series of disappearances in 1930s New York City.

Two-Headed Mary, the philanthropic panhandler is missing. So is Billie Trask, who disappeared from the cashier’s office of hit show Lucky Lady with the weekend take. Could either of them have followed a third Broadway babe, chorus girl Lydia Laurent — whose dead body has been found in Central Park?

Kurland is the author of more than thirty novels, but is best known for his Edgar-nominated mystery series featuring Professor Moriarty, including The Infernal Device and The Great Game. He has also edited several Sherlock Holmes anthologies and written non-fiction titles such as How to Solve a Murder: The Forensic Handbook. He lives in Petaluma, California.

In this intel interview, Kurland discusses the writers who influenced him to write a series set in the Thirties and the hardest lesson he learned about writing…

The Girl In The High-Heeled Shoes sounds like it would make a great Broadway show – what was the inspiration for it?

Well, Alexander Brass was already an established character with the first book, Too Soon Dead, and I liked him, so I wanted to see what other adventures he would share with me. The character Two-Headed Mary is based on a real con-woman of the same name. As for the title, it comes from a 1930s toast my mother told me:

‘Here’s to the girls in the high-helped shoes
Who eat our dinners and drink our booze
And hug and kiss us until we smother –
And then go home to sleep with mother!’

What made you want to write a series set in the 1930s?

The period always seemed both glamorous and innocent to me. And it was full of the most amazing people.

It was a turbulent time, full of glamour and gangsters – how influenced were you by the classic movies and novels of the period?

I think my image of the 30s was developed by the mystery novels of Sayers, Stout, Hammett and Chandler certainly, along with Tiffany Thayer, Robert Benchley, Leslie Charteris, and a lot of early science fiction. As for movies, perhaps the Marx Brothers movies and such films as Boy Meets Girl, My Man Godfrey, Casablanca, M, The Thin Man and its sequels, The 39 Steps, and anything Fred Astaire did.

HighHeelIf you could meet one iconic figure from the 1930s who would it be?

Just one? I would have to roll the dice to pick among George Gershwin, Oscar Levant, Dorothy Parker, Dashiell Hammett, James Thurber, Dorothy Sayers, Robert Benchley, Groucho Marx, Winston Churchill, Gypsy Rose Lee, Rex Stout, and Eleanor Roosevelt. With three dice I could extend the list. Certainly Eleanor’s husband would be fun to chat with.

You’ve written more than thirty novels, including your acclaimed Professor Moriarty series, and you teach mystery writing – what’s the one piece of advice to anybody who wants to write?

Set aside a time to write each day, sit down and don’t do anything else for that period of time, even if the writing doesn’t come. And read my book, “It’s a Mystery to Me” (plug).

How did you start writing?

When I was 12 years old I told my mother I was going to be a writer. I think I was reading Benchley at the time, along with Alexandre Dumas. Then when I got out of the Army I moved to Greenwich Village and fell in with a bad lot – Don Westlake, Randall Garrett, Harlan Ellison, Phil Klass (William Tenn), Terry Southern, full-time writers all. And they made it seem, if not easy, at least possible.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That it never gets any easier. When someone asked Raymond Chandler how he wrote, he said he rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter and stared at it until the blood formed on his forehead. Well, now I use a computer but aside from that I agree.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I’ll stick to defunct ones, so I don’t insult any friends. Mark Twain, because he was brilliant, wrote without clutter, fought the prejudices of his day, and, most difficult of all, was funny. Alexandre Dumas, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers and Don Westlake for creating characters I would like to meet. Poul Anderson and Jack Vance, for creating worlds I would like to visit. Philip MacDonald, Agatha Christie, and Dashiell Hammett for telling wonderful stories. Phil Klass, Joe Gores, and Richard Condon for making the most difficult job I know look so easy.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a pre-WWII political spy novel tentatively called The Bells Of Hell, as as getting started on the third Alexander Brass: Death Of A Dancer.

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The Alexander Brass Mystery The Girls In The High-Heeled Shows is available in paperback and ebook, published by Titan Books.

Guest Post: Catherine Ryan Howard

9781782398387Catherine Ryan Howard’s nautical thriller Distress Signals, which came out yesterday, has been picking up all kinds of fabulous reviews.

It’s about Adam Dunne’s investigation into the disappearance of his girlfriend Sarah. Adam, frantic with worry and dread, connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate — and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground…

Distress Signals is literally a holiday page-turner. Adam’s hunt for Sarah throws up all kinds of questions about a place we would consider a safe space — a  sunny cruise liner full of happy people. But, of course, the enclosed confines of a ship a long way from land is the perfect  place for a murderer to make merry hell among people with their guard down…

Catherine, who is based in Dubin, has worked in the leisure industry, so she’s seen for herself the dark side of the holiday dream. In this amazing guest post — it’s one hell of an eye-opening read — she talks about how her experiences shaped Distress Signals, and about how camp sites, hotels, cruise liners and theme parks teem with potential danger…

Catherine Ryan Howard_BW credit Steve LanganI loved the years I spent working in hospitality, but it wasn’t all fun in the sun. In fact, it was almost never fun in the sun, at least not for me – and that was the problem. In hotels and resorts, you work hard and you work long hours, but the guests and customers you interact with aren’t, for the most part, working at all. They’re all on holiday.

Back in 2005 I worked as a campsite courier on the Western Mediterranean coast of France. Each morning I would pull on my uniform – a fetching green shorts and red T-shirt combination that made me look like one of Santa’s elves only dressed for a warmer climate – and stumble out of my “live tent” (live as in I live here, not live music), heading for the shower block. The sky would be blue, the early morning sun warm and glorious and, en route, I’d pass family after family sitting on the decks of their mobile homes, sipping coffee and pulling apart flaky croissants fresh from the campsite’s bakery. On my way back, I’d pass these same families heading for the pool or the beach, lugging inflatables, towels and parasols. Ahead of me was typically five or six hours of cleaning the mobile homes and tents that had been vacated that day (in thirty-degree heat), and then another four or five hours of checking new customers into them after that. It could be depressing.

There was a darker side to being “on site” too. I’d been on numerous self-drive/campsite holidays in France growing up, both with the brand I now found myself working for and others, and I’d always loved them. The adventure of the mobile home or tent; the freedom to roam around the campsite; the fun hours spent at the swimming pool or in the playground or at the Kids’ Club. As a courier, my perspective was very different. The tents we lived in were dirty and broken, as was the “live area” in which they’d been erected. (Scabies was a known scourge on several sites.) As an aspiring crime writer, I always did what I called my Serial Killer Check whenever I stayed somewhere new: I counted how many locked doors a potential serial killer would have between him and me while I slept. On that campsite there were no doors at all, only zips. Anyone could come into or go out of your tent in the night.

Couriers frequently got themselves into trouble: taken to hospital in an ambulance with alcohol poisoning, or to the police station in a squad car because they’d been caught attempting to abscond with the petty cash box. Most were hired straight out of school and had never been away from home before. They barely knew how to look after themselves, let alone the customers.

I don’t think our customers appreciated that if something happened on their holiday, they were dependent on a motley crew of couriers, typically aged from 17 to 22, who didn’t speak the local language. During my stint there was a biblical storm which sent trees crashing into the roofs of the tents and flooded most of the campsite. Customers packed up their cars and fled during the night.

This was before wi-fi was everywhere and phones got smart; as the campsite was out in the middle of nowhere, we were so isolated we may as well have been on the moon. I remember one day catching sight of the cover of a British tabloid newspaper a customer had brought with them. There was a picture on the front taken outside the Superdome in New Orleans which showed a dead body floating in a flooded street. I was so confused. Bodies in the streets of a major U.S. city? What was happening out there in the world?

I hadn’t spent much time staying in hotels when, not long after my stint on the campsite, I moved to Orlando to work in one with more than 2,000 rooms in Walt Disney World. Here, the staff/guest divide was worse than ever. I’d come on shift at the front desk mid-afternoon, facing eight hours of standing in heels and practicing “aggressive friendliness” (Disney’s preferred employee manner), to greet families who’d been saving for years and years and were now fizzing with the excitement of finally being on their dream vacation. It was hard not to catch their enthusiasm. I almost always did.

But even in the happiest place on earth, darkness falls. One morning a huge team of us cast members (employees in Disney-Speak) were assembled to do a safety check: to knock on every single door in the hotel. In the early hours of the morning, a woman had called security in despair, saying she had hurt her children. As the call was made from a mobile phone, the room number couldn’t be traced. Now, we were trying to find her. If I got no answer to my knock I had to let myself into the room with a master key, bracing myself for what I might find. After several hours of this, we found nothing. It seemed like the call had been a prank.

On another occasion, we at the front desk noticed that someone had left a bag behind in the lobby. When we went to pick it up, we saw a handgun – a loaded handgun, it turned out – sitting inside. Even if you have a license to carry one, personal firearms are not allowed on WDW property. A major security alert ensued, and we eventually identified our very apologetic (and evidently forgetful) gun-toting guest.

Our training also including numerous doomsday scenarios, what with WDW being one of the biggest terrorist targets in the United States. September 11th 2001 was the only day since it opened in 1971 that WDW closed its gates, hand-holding employees forming a human wall that gently herded guests out of the parks while air force jets flew overhead. The cast members were told not to tell guests why unless they asked directly. What a disconcerting event that must have been, especially when you consider that there wasn’t the instant access to real-time events, e.g. Twitter and Facebook, that we have in our pockets today.

More generally, hotels are often the site of events the average guest would rather not think about. They’re a popular location for suicides, for instance. Housekeepers are trained to close and lock guest room doors behind them as they work – there have been numerous incidents of violent and sexual assaults on housekeepers by guests or other passers-by who happened to see them working in a room, went in and closed the door behind them, leaving only the housekeeper’s master key registered in the lock’s activity. As a housekeeping inspector, I also had to have hepatitis shots and special biohazard training in order to deal with “protein spills” – more Disney-speak. These ranged from a pool of not-quite-digested clam chowder in a bed to a streak of human faeces leading from the door of a guest room all the way down the hall to the elevator bank. (A wheelchair-user had unwittingly wheeled through it.)

People also hide in hotels – from authorities, from abusive spouses, or just from their lives. In one memorable incident I checked in a guest dressed like a character from a Jackie Collins novel, all coiffed and tucked and glossed, who refused to take off her sunglasses and only spoke in a hushed whisper while casting furtive glances over her shoulder. ‘I don’t want anyone to know I’m here,’ she told me. ‘Don’t give out my name, or put through calls to my room, or anything like that.’ No problem, I said. What’s the name on the reservation? ‘Marilyn Monroe.’ Um, okay… Perhaps not the best choice of fake name when you’re trying not to draw attention to yourself?

Hotels can be the site of all sorts of weird and unnerving activity. I myself have stayed in a haunted hotel room here in Dublin, and one of the strangest stories I ever heard was the tragic case of 21-year-old Elisa Lam, found drowned in a water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles back in 2013. CCTV footage from inside one of the hotel’s elevators is the last trace of Lam alive, and it shows her behaving very oddly, darting in and out as if hiding from someone unseen in the corridor. Moreover, her body lay in the tank for a fortnight and was only discovered after guests complained about the strange colour of water coming out of their sink taps and shower heads. Her death is still unexplained.

Although I’ve never worked on a cruise ship, I drew on these experiences in the hospitality industry – as a campsite courier, a front desk agent and a housekeeper supervisor – to lend some authenticity to Distress Signals, my debut thriller that explores the dark side of these colossal floating hotels and the idea that there are, effectively, no police at sea. Because if you think campsites and hotels are bad…

Well, just wait until you board the Celebrate. She’s waiting for you.

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Distress Signals, by Catherine Ryan Howard, is out now, published by Corvus in paperback and ebook.