Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

The Intel: Sam Christer

9780316181372 (800x532)A game is afoot in the Sherlock Holmes universe – and it’s every bit as wicked and deadly as you’d hope.

Sam Christer is the latest author to soak his bones in the deliciously rich world of the World’s Greatest Detective in his new thriller The House Of Smoke. But this time his protagonist, cold-blooded killer Simeon Lynch, is playing for Team Moriarty!

As Big Ben chimes in the first seconds of 1900 and the start of a new century, preparations are afoot inside Newgate gaol to hang Lynch, England’s deadliest assassin, who’s has spent two decades in the employ of the House of Moriarty – the world’s most feared criminal enterprise. Facing the noose, Simeon reflects on his life, remembering his upbringing as an orphan in the workhouse and how he first joined the employ of Professor Brogan Moriarty.

Then Holmes, his employer’s greatest nemesis, approaches him with a deal – to turn Queen’s Evidence against Moriarty and his brother James in exchange for his freedom. Simeon refuses, but the offer makes him all the more determined to escape the noose, and to seek revenge on those who wronged him.

But the law isn’t alone in wanting him dead. Over the course of a life filled with murder and brutality, Simeon has made enemies, some of whom may be closer than he realises…

Christer, who also writes as Jon Trace and Michael Morley, is the best-selling author of   The Camelot Code, The Turin Shroud Secret and The Stonehenge Legacy, which have been published in thirty-six countries around the world.

In this fascinating Intel interview, Christer – a director of commercials, as well as an author – talks about his love of research, about his discovery of an even more malevolent and wicked Moriarty brother, and how he couldn’t resist a detour into the sinister world of Victorian London…

Tell us about Simeon Lynch…

Lynch is very much a product of his time. Born with nothing, he grows up with nothing and becomes a young man with nothing to lose – but his life. The Victorian age was a desperate epoch. One in which if you had no money, no family, no mentors you inevitably became down-trodden, ground under the polished boots of the well-heeled and privileged classes. Initially, Lynch is swept along by circumstances and the cruelties of fate.

Then an event happens that changes his life. One that empowers and embitters him in equal measures. Hopefully, people will have some sympathy with him as well as detest the person he becomes. He is a highly conflicted individual, and this is most evident as he rots reflectively in jail, counting down the days to his execution at Newgate. It’s at this point that he, and we, see not only who he is, but also who he might have been.

It turns out that James Moriarty – one of the most-iconic villains in literatures – also has a smarter brother…

Not only smarter. I always struggled with the idea that James Moriarty, and he alone, headed up this amazingly cruel and complex criminal network that Holmes spoke fearfully of. Hence my invention of Brogan. A character very different to his brother. James was always cast as brilliant, very Alpha Male, a physical and mental match for Holmes and the best detectives in the world. I wanted Brogan to be more driven, more motivated, more malicious. I wanted him to demonstrate more reason to be wicked, more resolve to be brilliant in his wickedness.

What is it about the Sherlock Holmes universe that makes it such a rich source of inspiration for authors?

It is not just the Holmes universe; it is the Victorian universe.  This was a period of amazing change and fascinating architects of that change.  The century started with horses and ploughs, leeches and candlelight and it finished with trains, electricity, gas, motor cars and massive leaps in medicine. Setting a novel against such a rich backdrop is an irresistible lure. The language of the characters, the voices that you can put into their mouths, the thoughts you can have stir in their brains is also fascinatingly different than contemporary fiction.

Class played an immense part. Media was limited to newspapers, periodicals and the chatter of tongues. Aspirations were simpler and more personal. Then yes, of course there is Holmes himself, a character so powerful than even in cameo appearances he captures the audience and dominates the scene. I thought Anthony Horowitz did an amazing job putting believable words in his mouth and I think that partly inspired me to have him brush shoulders and shape the fortunes of some of the cast of House of Smoke.

House of Smoke coverAs an author you’re well known for your conspiracy thrillers – what made you detour through Victorian London?

A love of both the time and the city. A chance to dramatically romance a great age and I suppose create a different kind of conspiracy novel, one in which the conspirators are both social evils and human manipulators of those evils. Workhouses, prisons and executions were as much opportunities for exploitation as well as pillars of this harsh society and of course the people in charge of them made for fascinatingly flawed characters.

One of the joys of researching this book was walking the locations, reading the historic blue plates on the outside of houses and buildings and then sitting in the magnificent British Library and digging into the history and people of the time.

How did you start writing?


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

Good marketing is infinitely more effective than great writing. 

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Martin Amis for the intoxication of his language. Stephen King for his ability to make me check under the bed and never walk near a storm drain. James Patterson for his simplicity of plotting and ruthlessness of marketing. Dr. Seuss for helping me spread the love of reading to my children.

Give me some advice about writing…

Don’t do it unless you love it. If you love it, keep doing it.

What’s next for you?

My first book is currently being adapted for television in the US and I am very happily involved in the development process. I am also busy working with a UK production company on a TV adaption of another novel. I am just in the middle of directing some commercials for Euro 16 and after that, I hope to be lucky enough to write another thriller.


The House of Smoke by Sam Christer is published by Sphere, price £7.99 in paperback original.

The Intel: Vaughn Entwistle

Vaughn EntwistleThe winter nights are cold and dark, the wind is howling through the trees and you’re in the mood to curl up in front of a crackling fire in a top hat – or, if you’re a lady, a pretty bonnet – to read something dark and gothic.

Vaughn Entwistle’s new novel The Angel Of Highgate takes us back to October 1859. Lord Geoffrey Thraxton is notorious in Victorian society – a Byronesque rake with a reputation. After surviving a near deadly pistol duel, boastful Thraxton finds himself on the wrong side of the attending physician Silas Garrette, a chloroform addict with a bloodlust, and when Thraxton falls in love with a mysterious woman who haunts Highgate Cemetery he unwittingly provides the murderous doctor with the perfect means to punish a man with no fear of death.

Entwistle has got form where supernatural chillers are concerned. He’s the author of two novels in The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle series – of which The Angel Of Highgate is a prequel – The Revenant of Thraxton Hall and The Dead Assassin. He lives in north Somerset with his wife and cats.

Vaughn gives us the intel on his new series, Thraxton, gargoyles, and the secrets of Highgate Cemetery, and finding your killer concept.

Tell us about Lord Geoffrey Thraxton. Where did you get the inspiration to write such a deliciously wicked character?

Lord Thraxton is a bit of a naughty boy. I would describe him as “wicked” in the naughty sense of the word: wicked but not evil. He is impulsive, utterly without boundaries, and has a self-destructive streak that leads him to frequent brothels, smoke opium, womanise, fight duels and tempt fate at each and every opportunity. He’s a pastiche of several real-life characters. Like Lord Byron, he would best be described as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” He’s also partially based upon also the Irish nobleman, The Marquess of Waterford, known by many as the “Mad Marquess” because of his drunken revels with a group of cronies that frequently ended in vandalism and public outrage.

But deep at the centre of Thraxton is a dark streak of melancholia. He was deeply wounded in childhood by the death of his beloved mother and the subsequent indifference of his stern father. In the novel. Thraxton is a metaphor for the Victorian preoccupation (some might term it, fetishisation) of death. The Victorian era was a time when, due to the prevalence of incurable diseases such as “consumption” (tuberculosis), many people died in the bloom of youth. (The Poet Keats is a tragic example.) The Victorians made an artform of mourning right down to strict conventions regarding the mourning clothes that had to be worn for a full year after the loss of a loved one. The creation of London’s “Magnificent Seven,” elysian necropolises such as Kensal Green Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery and, of course, the crown jewel, Highgate Cemetery, were the physical manifestation of the Victorian obsession with death and mourning.

Why are we so attracted to absolute rotters like Lord Geoffrey?

I think we are fascinated and drawn to scoundrels like Lord Geoffrey Thraxton because they have the power and influence to flaunt the conventions of society, where we do not (or at least not without suffering consequences). Although we all like to live in an orderly and safe world, I think readers get a vicarious thrill reading about a protagonist who follows his or her own path without fear of the social repercussions.

Why are we so fascinated by the Victorian underworld?

I think Dickens has to take a great deal of the blame for this. The criminal underword has always held a fascination for the rest of us. The Victorian criminal, from Jack the Ripper onwards, had the unique ability to slip away into the foggy night, evading capture by the authorities. As such, they become fearful shadows. We read horror and suspense novels because we like to be scared, and the Victorian underworld is filled with bogeymen. The two that feature in The Angel of Highgate: the Mobsman Mordecai Fowler and the deranged Doctor Silas Garette, are utterly ruthless psychopaths dredged up from your worst nightmare.

The Angel Of HighgateWhich is your favourite grave in Highgate Cemetery?

To me the most spectacular part of Highate Cemetery is the Egyptian Avenue, a dark and gloomy passageway entered by passing through a massive, pharoahnic arch (Egyptology was all the rage in Victorian England). The dark passageway is lined on either side by brass doored tombs and gradually ascends to a circle of granite tombs called The Circle of Lebanon, so named after the towering cedar at its centre. If you’re a topophile like me, there’s nothing to match it for sheer gothic atmosphere.

Will we be seeing the return of your paranormal sleuthing duo Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde?

I certainly hope so. I’m currently writing the third in the series while plotting the fourth book and have ideas for dozens of future books in the series.

You’ve had your own gargoyle-sculpting business! What makes a really handsome gargoyle?

Ugly and scary is what you’re looking for in a gargoyle, which is why my best gargoyles are based on what I look like when I get up in the morning—before I’ve quaffed a big mug of strong tea and had time to pound the horns back into my head.

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

A novel takes a tremendous amount of work and consumes a huge chunk of your life. And yet I have written novels that will probably never see the light of day. Not because the writing was bad, but because the concept behind it was not commercial enough. You can write about any subject you like, but to attract the attention of an agent and then a publisher, you need a killer concept (something highly original, but not too way out). But a high concept alone is not enough; you must follow through with terrific writing featuring original characters, sparkling dialogue and vivid prose that crackles on the page.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, because beyond providing the archetype for the detective story with Sherlock Holmes, he was also an incredible innovator who penned ghost stories, science fiction, historical fiction and adventure stories.

Neil Gaiman: the consummate professional. Although he’s been writing for years, he continues to produce fresh, original writing.

Elizabeth Hand. A terrific writer with gorgeous prose. A terrific “voice” and a good prose style are essential for me. I’ve abandoned many novels if the prose is dull and unoriginal. I’m very proud of my own prose style and many fans comment upon it.

Ramsey McDonald. Recognised by many as the master of horror. His short stories are the best in the genre.

Give me some advice about writing…

If you are not writing, you should be reading and vice versa. It takes hours and hours of writing to discover your “voice.” There is no short cut for this. You should also be well read in whatever genre you decide to write in. Not so you can copy others, but so you can avoid copying them. To stand out in today’s crowded marketplace, you must offer something utterly original.

 What’s next for you?

I am currently writing the third novel in the Paranormal Casebooks series, entitled, The Faerie Vortex. As you can guess from the title it’s about faeries. However, I always like to take an unconventional spin on whatever trope I use in my fiction. So these are not the Tinkerbell fairies of Disney, these are Faeries in the sense of The Fey: beings that are intimately linked with the Nether-realm that lies between life and death.

I’m also working on the plot of the fourth book in the Paranormal Casebooks series and when I’m not doing that I’m writing a collection of ghost stories.


The Angel Of Highgate is published by Titan Books on December 1st.

The Intel: Mark A. Latham

Mark A. Latham

2015 Adam Shaw Photography

Mark A. Latham’s supernatural crime novel The Lazarus Gate introduces us to a new Victorian hero. Captain John Hardwick, an army veteran and opium addict, is recruited by a mysterious gentlemen’s club to combat an uncanny threat to the British Empire.

As his path crosses with that of “The Artist,” a mysterious yet brilliant painter whose medium encompasses something far more otherworldly than mere oil and acrylic paints, he soon finds himself drawn into a world just beyond our own.

The Lazarus Gate is the tale of a secret war waged between parallel universes, between reality and the supernatural. A war fought relentlessly by an elite group of agents.

Latham has got form for this kind of fantastical genre mash-up. Formerly the editor of Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine, Mark dabbled in tabletop games design before becoming a full-time author of strange, fantastical and macabre tales.

He gives us the intel on the first of his Hardwick series, how Victorian literature inspired him, the parallels between roleplaying games and narrative fiction and how a good editor can work wonders for any writer…

What is The Lazarus Gate?

That would be a massive spoiler… Suffice it to say, in a tale of Victorian science fiction, the central threat will come in the form of an Infernal Device ™. The Lazarus Gate is that device.

Your novel combines crime and supernatural elements in a Victorian setting – where did you get the idea for the exploits of Captain John Hardwick and The Artist?

That’s such a tough question – I think every writer dreads the ‘Where do you get your ideas’ question, because there’s rarely a single answer. I’ve lived and breathed Victorian literature since I was a kid, so I was always going to write something set in the era. Really, the books that I loved in my teens – Dracula, Allan Quatermain, The Man Who Would be King, The Time Machine, and so on – they informed the themes that I knew I had to touch on. The obsession with spiritualism, the Gothic, Victorian exoticism and Imperialism, the sins of the father being visited on the son… You’ll probably see shades of Count Dracula and even Fu-Manchu in the Artist, which is entirely intentional.

I’m also a pretty avid reader of horror stories (mostly Victorian and Edwardian ones, naturally), and so I always like to include some elements creeping dread in my stories. That doesn’t bode terribly well for John Hardwick at times, unfortunately…

Why is the Victorian era such a rich time for writers with a penchant for the fantastical?

We’re in a period of real appreciation for Victorian-era stories; while a few years ago we saw some failed attempts and false starts (The oft-maligned League of Extraordinary Gentleman movie springs to mind), we’re now entering a golden age for aficionados of the era like me. Shows like Penny Dreadful and Ripper Street, and the movie Crimson Peak, are getting the mainstream attention they deserve. The BBC’s Sherlock has reinvigorated interest in the Great Detective, and is even filming a very meta Victorian episode. The fantastical elements of many of these shows lend themselves so perfectly to the period – the Victorians were obsessed with the supernatural, the sinister, the fantastical. So many of the horror, SF and fantasy tropes we think of as clichéd today were created in the nineteenth century that it was just a really rich melting pot of ideas. Going back to the source seems entirely natural, to me at least.

I think the Victorian era has a mystique and romance about it. When people think of ghost stories, they often think of the fog-shrouded streets of Victorian London. When they think of detective fiction, they think of Sherlock Holmes. When they think of gruesome crimes, they think of Jack the Ripper. It’s such an evocative period in history, and for writers of a more macabre bent, like me, there’s a wealth of archetypal images to draw upon. More than that, I think that in an era where we’re just bombarded with technology and communications that make the world feel very small, it’s great to be able to hearken back to a time before the telephone or the aeroplane, when detective work had to be done with footslogging and deduction rather than high-speed international databases, and where help was several days’ ride away rather than at the end of a cell phone.

The Lazarus GateThe Lazarus Gate would make a terrific film – who have your got your eye on for the main cast?

Very nice of you to say (if any Hollywood agents are reading this, their people can feel free to call my people, etc). It’s funny you should ask that though, as I was talking with friends about this in the pub just yesterday!

When I start writing a story, I often ‘cast’ the main roles, and sometimes even pin pictures of those actors and actresses up on a board. The reason is to help me with dialogue – ‘How would he deliver that line if this was a movie?’ Although I don’t write in anything like a ‘movie structure’, as an exercise it helps keep me consistent with characterisation.

A friend told me yesterday that she could see Johnny Depp playing John Hardwick, which really surprised me. Actually, when I was about four chapters in, he started speaking in the voice of Jonny Lee Miller from Elementary, and that kind of stuck. John Hardwick isn’t Hollywood-pretty, and he’s not really the typical action hero – he’s had a tough life, he’s not a great success, he’s wiry and scarred, struggling with addiction, but keeps it together in the face of adversity, remaining honest as the day is long in a world of deception and temptation.

As for the rest of the cast – I don’t want to influence how people see my characters in their mind’s eye, but let’s just say that there are definitely parts for Jude Law, Alan Rickman and Tuppence Middleton when the casting people come knocking.

You have been a tabletop games designer – what are the similarities between inventing games and writing novels?

I still am a [part time] tabletop games designer, for my sins. I think writing those sort of games flexes both your creative muscles and your organisational ones. Can you capture the imagination of your audience, and create a convincing world? Can you then create a framework of rules that logically fit together so that your readers/players can bring their own stories to life within that world? That’s at the heart of everything I’ve ever done.

It’s in roleplaying games, though, that I really cut my teeth as a narrative writer. When you’re the games master or storyteller for a small group, you have to balance those interactions so each of your players has their time to shine, encouraging them to stay ‘in character’, and rewarding their actions on the fly with new plot twists while gently nudging them towards an end goal in your story arc. All those years playing Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu probably made me a better writer.

Like many writers, you’re turning your attention to a Sherlock Holmes novel – what can you tell us about that?

Very little, if I want my editor to refrain from sending out the hitmen. I will say that it’s a bit of a genre mash-up, like many of Titan’s Sherlock Holmes titles. Naturally, as it’s me, you can expect a bit of Gothic horror and Victorian sensationalism; but I’m a stickler when it comes to Holmes. He will save the day using deduction and rationalism, no matter how esoteric the crime appears.

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

I expect the really hard stuff is yet to come. But really, I think it’s that you have no one to rely on but yourself if you’re going to succeed. You can get support from all over, sure, but that’s not going to put words on the blank page that’s been staring you out for the last eight hours, or put an advance in your account. There are lots of things that no amount of writing advice and blogs can prepare you for. Those days when you think everything you’ve written is just terrible. The rejections, the really hard revisions… you have to steel yourself for that, and if you don’t think you’re up to it then you’re in the wrong business. It’s always been that way I think, but these days social media, book blogging, Amazon reviews… it’s made writers more accessible, and more vulnerable. I think writers sometimes get accused of having huge egos. Some of them do, I’m sure! But the average writer just uses the façade of an ego like a shield – it’s a pretty vital survival mechanism.

All of that makes it sound like writing is one long hardship. It isn’t, of course. It’s not as easy as I thought when I took the leap, in all honesty, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Build up resistance to the hard times, celebrate the good, put your soul into it… you’ll be alright.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

It’s a testament to my obsession with history that most of my favourite authors are long dead. Of them, I’d say Conan Doyle, Stoker, and M R James would be my top three, with William Hope Hodgson and H G Wells completing the top five. Essentially that’s because those writers all became masters of their niche, if not the creators of it, and there’s no way The Lazarus Gate would have been written without them.

Of the writers living today, I envy Neil Gaiman’s fathomless imagination, Susan Hill’s ability to evoke atmosphere with very few words, Stephen King’s incredible plotting, Sarah Pinborough’s consistent and prolific output, and Adam Nevill’s ability to make the most mundane situations appear absolutely terrifying.

Give me some advice about writing…

I’ll give you two bits of advice, born of my own experience. As I’ve only had one book published to date, you can take this with pinch of salt/delete as applicable…

The first is to be true to yourself and your ‘vision’, for want of a better word. Write the book you’d want to read, and put all your enthusiasm into it so that other people want to read it too. Don’t sully that first draft by trying to second guess what makes a ‘marketable’ manuscript, by following formulas and ‘rules’ prescribed by the MFA lecturer who wrote that self-help book ten years ago. Make sure it excites you first and foremost, and hammer it into shape later, with help. Which brings me to my second tip, and one that’s perhaps even more important:

Listen to your editor.

Seriously, finding a good editor is the absolute key to getting a good book on the shelves, because no amount of tinkering and jealously guarding your beautiful work is going to make that book shine quite like a skilled editor. A good editor will engage you in a two-way process, and open a meaningful dialogue designed to polish your manuscript. But you’d better be prepared to meet her half way. That’s when the ego-shield I mentioned earlier has to get put in a box for a spell.

What’s next for Captain Hardwick?

Well, that’s also a bit of a secret. I will say that the series isn’t all about John, although I have some pretty severe hardships in store for him, don’t worry about that!


The Lazarus Gate, is published by Titan Books in paperback and ebook, priced at £7.99.

Guest Post: V.M. Giambanco

The Devil has all the best tunes. You know that, I know that – it’s why we read crime fiction. A good protag is nothing without an evil antag. A deliciously evil – and yet vulnerable – villain can elevate a good crime book to something great. Just ask Thomas Harris, Stephen King or our old friend Conan Doyle.

V.M. Giambanco knows that as well as anybody. In her Alice Madison series she’s earned herself a reputation for specialising in complex and dangerous bad guys.

In the latest, Blood And Bone – which is out today! – Seattle detective Madison finds herself tracking an elusive killer whose brutality is legendary even among high-security prisoners. If you’re a crime reader or writer, you’re going to want to read Valentina’s terrific guest post for Crime Thriller Fella about what makes a satisfying villain. She talks Hannibal, Ripleys Tom and Ellen, and careless dentistry…

What do I want from a villain?

Valentina Giambanco

As I write this post I’m working on the fourth book of the Alice Madison series and when the issue of a subject for this piece came up I had little doubt that I wanted to talk about: villains. Why? Because, more than in any other genre, villains define the crime fiction novel and it is by what villains do that the other characters come alive.

Where would Clarice be without Hannibal? Or Holmes without Moriarty? Or even Nick without ‘Amazing Amy’? The best villain is the one who gets the best out of the hero and by that I mean that it is the character who pushes all others around him to act in ways that make the story compelling, revealing, multi-layered and memorable. And it’s not a small task, which is why – and I’ve only realised this as I started to think about this piece – I generally start each story by working out who the villain is and why he does what he does. Only when I’ve found something that feels suitably gripping does the story really begin.

I have a theory – and obviously it might just be something that works for me and no other writer or reader – but when I’m trying to build an effective villain I need four elements; a couple are pretty obvious, the others maybe not.

First, and it’s no big surprise, my villain has to give the story a real sense of danger which translates into urgency and keeps the clock ticking. Examples are almost unnecessary but for the sheer creepiness of it I’ll mention Annie Wilkes in ‘Misery’, whose mood swings and inner workings are as terrifying as any serial killer out there.

Second, there has to be a motive, something strong enough that the villain can hang his whole behaviour on it and it has to be so powerful that it can carry him throughout the story. By the way, I keep saying he for ease of writing but, as I have just mentioned, crime fiction villainy is an equal opportunity employer – ever met Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell?

Third, and here things get more complicated, I really enjoy seeing the story through the eyes of the villain. Take Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley for example, he is the central character and what he does appears merely as a string of necessary actions to further his very reasonable needs. That’s all.

Blood And BoneWhen Thomas Harris inhabits Francis Dolarhyde’s mind in ‘Red Dragon’ he is so skilled at building character that we can’t help feeling a tiny sting of compassion for him even at his most frightening and amoral. I’ve read once that Harris said he was always glad when he knew he was writing a chapter with Hannibal Lecter in it but was also glad when Lecter left and he didn’t have to see the world through his maroon eyes anymore.

Four, I’m intrigued when I can see the humanity of the villains: the unstoppable serial killer without weaknesses does not really interest me because it moves through the story in a similar manner to the alien creature in ‘Alien’ – slaughtering everyone in its path until it gets blasted out of the ship, and where’s the fun in that? I absolutely love ‘Alien’: if we’re talking about slowly building menace and claustrophobia and terror, it’s a classic – and the unusual hero of the series is a resourceful, stubborn woman who can operate heavy machinery. But that’s not where I go if I want a complex, multi-layered villain.

So, I have my four elements: physical danger, motive, a different way to look at life and an ember of humanity – this is what I look for in a villain. Sometime they are all found in one character, sometimes the story will give us more than one straight villain to play with and then we can split these elements. Recently I watched ‘Marathon Man’, written by William Goldman from his excellent novel, and the villain is an old man with a lethal blade hidden in his sleeve and dentist’s tools in his satchel. Szell, the Second World War Nazi, is one of the most terrifying villains ever created because he is a little guy who certainly couldn’t run after the protagonist to catch him but, once he has him tied up on a chair, there is no end to the pain he is prepared to inflict to achieve his end. His age, vulnerability and cruelty make him human and real and more repulsive than someone like Lecter could ever be because we know Nazi existed and we know what they did while a cultured, engaging, sociopath with a perfectly replicated middle finger and a taste for murder is yet to be born.

As a crime writer I’m always looking for a great fictional villain and yet sometimes it is reality that is too extreme to be believed: I’ve read online today that a pharmaceutical company has raised the price of a life-saving pill from $13.50 to $750, not even Hannibal Lecter can match that kind of evil.


Blood And Bone is available now, published by Quercus Books, in hardback, and also in ebook.

The Intel: James Lovegrove

James LovegroveThat Sherlock Holmes, aye? A hundred years down the line and authors still can’t get enough of The Great Detective. He’s been reinterpreted, reimagined, rebooted, restyled, and flung through time. Writers have pored over Conan Doyle’s every sentence to find inspiration for untold stories. In Baker Street everyone’s a star. Minor characters have been plucked from obscurity and given their own series – and still readers can’t get enough of his Victorian world.

Now sci-fi author James Lovegrove has given Holmes a steampunk vibe by pitting him against The Thinking Engine. It’s 1895 and Professor Quantock has put the finishing touches to a wondrous computational device that, he claims, is capable of analytical thought to rival that of the cleverest men alive.

Holmes and Watson travel to Oxford, where a battle of wits ensues between the great detective and his mechanical counterpart as they compete to see which of them can be first to solve a series of crimes. As man and machine vie for supremacy, it becomes clear that the Thinking Engine has its own agenda and Holmes and Watson’s lives are on the line as a ghost from the past catches up with them.

James is the best-selling author of The Age of Odin, the third novel in his critically-acclaimed Pantheon military SF series. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 for his novel Days and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004 for his novel Untied Kingdom. A reviewer for The Financial Times, he’s also  the author of Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War and Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares, which are also published by Titan Books.

In this intel interview, James talks Holmes and zombies, crosswords, Solomon Kane, our old friend Fu Manchu, and the Darwinian business of writing. It’s fascinating stuff — enjoy!

Tell us about The Thinking Engine…

I’ve set the book in Oxford in 1895, drawing on the reference in the Conan Doyle tale The Three Students, in which Watson states that in the spring of that year “a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great university towns”.

I myself was at Oxford between 1985 and 1988, studying for a degree in English Literature, so I know the place reasonably well and I thought it would be interesting to write a full-blown Sherlock Holmes novel in the City of Dreaming Spires, where he would be surrounded by intellectuals and academics, and also incorporate some of the local history and folklore into the story. I’d done that in Gods of War, which takes place in and around my current hometown, Eastbourne, and enjoyed the process. People tend to associate Holmes with Victorian London, but I think it’s fun removing him from all that’s familiar and giving him a new geography to explore.

The plot of the novel involves the creation of a computation device by a mathematics professor which seems to be capable to solving crimes. The machine is even, its creator claims, the equal of the great Sherlock Holmes. That’s a red rag to a bull as far as Holmes is concerned, so he travels to Oxford to establish the truth and uphold his reputation. There follows a series of mysteries, with the computer, called the Thinking Engine, always one step ahead of the great detective. And I’m not going to say any more than that, so as not to spoil the surprises. Rest assured, though, that all is not as it seems.

Why is the character of Sherlock Holmes as popular now as he has ever been?

A friend of mine, who’s a fellow Sherlockian, once likened Holmes to the ultimate older brother, and I like that description. We all know he’s a younger brother, of course, but he seems to fulfil a fraternal role as far as Watson is concerned, and therefore as far as we, the readers, are concerned, because Watson is our point of identification, the vehicle through which Holmes is mediated. Holmes is smarter, stronger, quicker on the uptake than Watson, always leading him along, goading him, sometimes chiding him, sometimes even bullying. Watson looks up to him, all the same, and we do too.

That, to me, is part of Holmes’s appeal: he feels like close kin. But also, he is resolutely on the side of the angels. He may not be the most patient or empathetic of heroes, but he is nonetheless a hero through and through. He represents certainty, the assurance that things will turn out well, that evil can be overcome through the application of energy and intelligence. That’s a very comforting message.

The analytical Holmes is a perfect fit for a steampunk movie – which director would you like to see adapt your books for the big-screen?

I haven’t really thought about movie adaptations or suitable directors. With all my books, I write them because they’re novels and are meant to be, novels and nothing else. Prose fiction is the medium I work in, the medium I understand best. First and foremost, I want to tell a good story in prose. What I would like to see, though, and be involved in, is a Holmes TV series that injects him into various SF/fantasy/horror situations. The setting would be the Victorian/Edwardian era. Holmes, Watson and all the secondary characters would be exactly as they are in the books. The only difference would be that he has to pit his wits against vampires, zombies, aliens and the like. In fact, I’m making moves in this direction already. Watch this space.

Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking EngineHolmes novels are clever puzzles, and you actually contribute cryptic crosswords to newspapers – do you have to have a logical mind to write The Great Detective?

I’m sure a logical mind helps, especially when it comes to putting together a plot. However, there is plenty of emotion in Holmes stories too, or there should be. He isn’t just a cerebral being, devoid of feeling. He has passions and latent empathy, and it’s important for any Holmes pasticheur to put those across. I love exploring the relationship between him and Watson.

There’s endless possibility for interplay and even humour there. Holmes himself is, in a very acerbic, droll way, funny. Not everyone sees that. He has a very English sense of understatement and irony, and even when he’s mocking Watson or a dull-witted Scotland Yard inspector, he does it with affection. Any novel, but especially a mystery-adventure novel, needs to have strong characterisation as well as rock-solid plotting. Logicality alone would create something that’s dry as dust and no fun.

You’ve written about Holmes as well as the many Gods of the great mythologies as part of your Pantheon sci-fi series – are there any other literary or mythological characters you’d like to get your hands on?

I would love, love, love to write a Fu Manchu novel. I have made noises about this to various publishers, particularly Titan, who are reprinting the original Sax Rohmer stories in lovely new paperback editions. The problem there is partly a copyright issue but also the popularity of the character, which is relatively low, especially when compared with someone as internationally recognisable as Holmes.

There is also the racism issue to address, Fu Manchu being of course the stereotypical “Yellow Peril” villain. I’ve thought of a way of dealing with that, by setting the story in the present day and incorporating the politics of modern China into the narrative. However, I suspect this project will remain forever a pipe dream.

As will my desire to write a Solomon Kane novel. Kane, as I’m sure you’re aware, is one of Robert E. Howard’s lesser series characters, and I feel that Howard could have done more with him outside the handful of short stories and the very bad poems he wrote about him. There was lots to explore there, and the sheer internal contradiction in the concept of a Puritan adventurer is fascinating. Again, there are rights issues to consider here, though, and even the recent movie, which was surprisingly authentic and good, did little to raise Kane’s profile outside genre circles.

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

That it’s incredibly difficult to make a decent living in this business. I’m doing reasonably well as a full-time writer, better than many, but that’s largely because I work my backside off and have been in publishing long enough (well over a quarter of a century!) and put out enough books (well over fifty!) to have built up a good roster of professional contacts and, perhaps, a reputation.

It’s difficult realising you’re never going to be in the Stephen King or J.K. Rowling leagues, you’re never going to sell books in those quantities, you’re never going to become a multimillionaire writer and be able to retire to the Bahamas and drink cocktails for the rest of your days. Those guys are the exception. The rule is the mid-listers like me who can just about get by. You have to be content with reaching the readers you do reach and simply earning an income from writing stories. Always you can hold out the hope of the big bestseller, the one that finally makes your name and gets the world to sit up and take notice. But, in an industry as tough and Darwinian as this, getting by is good enough.

Who are the crime authors you admire, and why? 

Other than Conan Doyle? I don’t have many favourites. I tend not to read much crime fiction, and especially not police procedurals, which I can’t seem to acquire a taste for. That said, I always liked Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels. I’m a sucker, too, for a locked-room mystery, which I like to think of as a cryptic crossword in fictional form, as long as the author plays fair with the reader, just as a crossword setter should play fair with the solver.

I have Otto Penzler’s massive Black Lizard compendium of locked-room mysteries by my bedside and am loving dipping into that, and I’m looking forward to his Holmes-pastiches companion volume which is due out soon. I was also a bit of a fan of Andrew Vachss’s Burke series while it lasted, particularly the early ones, while Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker stories are things of beauty.

Give me some advice about writing…

You have to work. Work, work, work. Never miss a deadline. Never say no to an offer of gainful employment. Some people seem to think being an author is an honour, a privilege. It is, but it’s also a job. You put the hours in. You do it the best you can. You don’t just sit there and think how wonderful it would be if the words just magically appeared. You make them appear, through effort and thought. Once you figure that out, it becomes easier.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished the first of a trilogy, known collectively as The Cthulhu Casebooks, in which Sherlock Holmes tackles gods, monsters and madmen drawn from, or inspired by, the H.P. Lovecraft canon. That’s out in late 2016, with the sequels to follow at yearly intervals.

I’ve just begun work on a new Pantheon novel, one featuring the Ancient Greek demigods. It’s something of a murder mystery itself, with a protagonist who’s a semi-successful crime writer – although a long, long time ago he used to be someone a lot more famous and proactive when it came to dishing out justice. That, too, is out next year, late summer I think, coming on the heels of the second of my Dev Harmer outer-space-action series. I’ve a couple of other projects bubbling away on the back burner. Staying busy!


Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine is out in paperback and ebook, from Titan Books.

The Intel: Martin Davies

We love authors here, and we love books — so it goes without saying that we love publishers. Which is why it’s always a pleasure to discover that there’s a new kid in town. Canelo is a new digital publisher, which combines book publishing and new media. It’s the brainchild of experienced people from the book trade, developers and marketers and the like — the kind of people who know what they’re doing.

And Canelo has already hit the ground running with a trio of crime titles and authors, which we’re going to feature here, because we’re good like that at Crime Thriller Fella, because we love authors and we love books and — well, you get the message.

Mrs Hudson And The Spirits' CurseSo, let’s talk about Holmes. You may have heard of him. He’s a character that many authors have reinterpreted over the last century, and now Martin Davies has introduced a clever new aspect to the great sleuth — his enigmatic housekeeper. In Mrs Hudson And The Spirits’ Curse, it’s Mrs. Hudson, and her orphaned assistant Flotsam, who is front and centre on crime-fighting duties.

Author Martin Davies grew up in the North West of England and works in broadcasting. He gives us the intel on Hudson, Raffles, our seemingly unquenchable thirst for The World’s Greatest Consulting Detective, and, of course, the best way to get down to the nitty-gritty of writing…

Mrs Hudson’s name seems oddly familiar – tell us about her…

Her name is certainly a lot more familiar now, in the wake of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, than it was when I first sat down to write The Spirits’ Curse. In the Conan Doyle stories, Mrs Hudson is little more than a name and a presence in the background at Baker Street; her own character and history are gloriously neglected – giving us a wonderful opportunity to unleash our imaginations. 

How does your interpretation of Mrs Hudson build on the Conan Doyle character?

With so little to build upon, I’ve had to supply a lot of my own bricks. But it is obvious from the Conan Doyle stories that Holmes and Watson are not domesticated types, and I loved the idea that for all Holmes’ scientific knowledge and deductive powers, there might be crucial gaps in his knowledge of housekeeping matters that Mrs Hudson would find easy to fill. And of course, were she to have had a long career of domestic service in the houses of the rich and famous (and why not?), she might also have powerful contacts of the sort that Holmes and Watson lack.

Do you plan to reinvent any other minor Holmes characters in the series?

Perhaps one or two. I enjoyed including AJ Raffles in the first novel of the series – not a Holmes character, but a character created by Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law – and there may be more, similarly tangential, connections to come.

Martin DaviesWe just can’t get enough of Sherlock Holmes – why is that?

I think because he remains a remarkably modern character (just look at how beautifully he was re-imagined for the digital age in the current TV series) and yet there remains a sort of cosiness to the world he inhabits that is a pleasing refuge from the ultra-realism and graphic violence of some modern crime fiction. There may be horrible, violent and gory cases in front of him, but there will still be a fire burning in Baker Street and an honest bobby on patrol just outside.

You say that you can’t work in solitude, and so have to write in cafes, trains and other public places – where’s the oddest place you’ve ever sat down to write?

I wrote the seduction scene of one novel — The Conjuror’s Bird — in the garden of a Spanish monastery.

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

It helps to work out some of the basics before you start. I’d like to tell you about the novel that I began in the third person, then rewrote in the first person, then changed back to the third person, then realised that it was all wrong and rewrote again in the first person. I’d like to tell you about it, but I can’t, it’s still too painful.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Ooo, so many! But to pick a few: Dickens for writing so many remarkable novels; Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa for writing just one; Malcolm Pryce for writing the sort of books I’d love to write; Anne Tyler for writing the sort of books I know I could never write; Shaun Tan for the joyous originality of his genius.

Give me some advice about writing…

Each week, set aside a time and a place for writing, and be realistic: don’t set yourself up to fail. You may only be able to find twenty uninterruptable minutes a week, but if you spend those minutes writing, you will have a novel in the end.

What’s next for Holmes and Mrs Hudson?

A priceless ruby is heading for London, but so is a mysterious magician whose performances coincide with baffling jewellery thefts. Little wonder that Sherlock Holmes is tasked with keeping the famous gem safe… Mrs Hudson and The Malabar Rose will be available in digital format through Canelo very soon.


So, look, Mrs Hudson And The Spirits’ Curse is already out and getting some terrific reviews, and you can buy it at all sorts of digital bookshops, like this one for example.



The Intel: Simon Mason

Simon MasonHolmesian deduction comes in all sizes and ages. Sir Ian is currently rocking his elderly Sherlock at your local picture house and now Simon Mason brings us the first of his Garvie Smith mysteries, Running Girl.

Garvie is a school boy hero, with a Sherlock-level IQ, and a charming, brilliant personality – unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a slacker. When his ex-girlfriend is pulled out of a pond, it’s up to Garvie – and young policeman DI Singh – to solve the crime.

Running Girl, which is out in paperback now, has been shortlisted for the 2014 Costa Children’s Book Award.

Simon is the author of five other novels for younger readers, as well as the author of three novels for adults. You have probably deduced correctly, using all you powers of observation and analytical reasoning,  that Simon is about to give us the lowdown on his new teenage sleuth, on writing for teenagers and how uninvited guests often crash his novels. Take it away, Simon…

Tell us about Garvie Smith.

Sixteen years old, super-bright – photographic memory, the whole bit – phenomenally lazy. He’s getting into bad habits: truanting from school, lying to his mother, smoking weed, getting into trouble with the police. So what? The world hasn’t done anything for him, why should he do anything for the world? Nothing gets his attention. Then the body of his ex-girlfriend Chloe is pulled from Pike Pond.

There’s obviously a strong dash of Sherlock in Garvie, but what were your other detective influences?

Yes, Sherlock. Garvie sees the signal in the noise, the detail everyone else misses. He keeps things to himself, goes at them his own way. He cares about justice, but couldn’t care less about the law; if it helps to solve a problem he doesn’t mind a bit of breaking and entering. Poirot too, perhaps. Like the egg-head Belgian, Garvie understands the way people behave; he’s empathetic. I think also he’s like Philip Marlowe, a cynic on the outside, a purist on the inside. He has a conscience and a tenderness – but likes to keep both well hidden.

What’s the trick to getting inside the teenage mind when you’re writing?

Living with a couple for several years helps. There were times I was desperately trying to get out of a teenager’s mind. But what fantastic creatures they are. They explode into the adult world like fireworks. Will life ever be so vivid again?

Running GirlWhy do you think young readers are so drawn to detectives and mysteries?

We lives our lives by stories. We’re story-telling animals. For us the seduction of a story’s mystery is deep and powerful. We have to know, to find out. Our curiosity drives us wild – particularly when we’re young – until it is satisfied. But the detective is also a figure of compelling fascination. Someone set slightly apart – as well all feel ourselves to be – a rogue figure risking all for the sake of the truth.

Running Girl had been shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award — no pressure, then, for the next Garvie adventure?

Genuinely no pressure at all from Costa short-listing. Means nothing. Pressure instead from the characters – from Garvie, from Detective Inspector Raminder Singh, from Smudge, Felix and Alex, from Garvie’s mother. They demand to live. Also, in the new Garvie Smith book (three-quarters done, tell my publishers) the minor characters, those uninvited people who gate-crash my stories and won’t leave even when I ask them nicely: Vinnie the tramp, off his head out on the industrial estate; jittery Khalid running his corner shop; Blinkie the cartoon gangster with an eye patch and a big dog.

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

Do it again.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Changes every week. At the moment: Saul Bellow (the great describer of people and their foibles); Italo Calvino (writer of fables shimmering with beauty and oddity); Elizabeth Taylor (sharp-minded comedian of the English middle-classes); William Golding (laureate of the strange); Geoffrey Hill (author of Mercian Hymns, a poem cycle about Offa, Anglo-Saxon king of England, a sort of cross between Stalin and Dennis the Menace)

Give me some advice about writing.

Write. Be patient (it takes time). Be yourself (this also takes time).

Running Girl by Simon Mason is out now, published by David Fickling Books, price £7.99 in paperback


TV Crime Log: Arthur, Banks, Following

Arthur And GeorgeThe Sherlock Holmes juggernaut ploughs endlessly on. This time it’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who gets the, er, Arthur Conan Doyle treatment.

It’s not often we mention ITV on this site without typing the names Vera, Banks or Lewis, but Arthur and George — the network’s three-part adaptation of Julian Barnes’ acclaimed novel — is worth a look.

Written by Ed Whitmore, the drama is based on true events in the life of Conan Doyle, in which he famously championed two little girls who claimed they photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden in Cottingley Beck. Oh wait, no, that was something completely different.

The blurb will provide the seven-per cent solution:

In 1906, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is mourning the loss of his wife, Louisa. Her death, after a long and drawn out illness, has caused Arthur to slump into a guilt-ridden malaise: he fears that Louisa may have suspected that he was an adulterer, in thought if not in deed, due to his friendship with Jean Leckie. Even writing his famous Sherlock Holmes stories cannot rouse Arthur. Then his secretary, Woodie, comes across a letter from a Mr George Edalji, a young Parsee solicitor, who was sent to prison for three years for a crime that he attains he did not commit. George wants Arthur’s help to clear his name: could this be Arthur’s chance to right a wrong?

George was convicted of a spate of sending poisonous letters and animal maimings, in the Staffordshire village of Great Wyrley, in 1903. As George relays the story of his family’s persecution, which inadvertently led to his arrest, Arthur is convinced of George’s innocence; Woodie, however, is not so sure. Having been warned off reinvestigating the case by the very Judge who presided over George’s trial, Arthur is even more determined to discover the true culprit – the so-called ‘Wyrley Ripper’.

Arthur and Woodie travel to Great Wyrley to visit George’s family, to be shown the very letters that George’s father, the Reverend Shapurji Edalji, received, supposedly from his own son. However, Arthur and Woodie’s arrival at the Vicarage causes a bit of a stir: it seems that someone is intent on learning what they do and do not know. Could this be the Wyrley Ripper, trying to warn them off?

That blurb wad almost as long as a Holmes short story. Martin Clunes plays Conan Doyle, as you can see. Arthur And George is on ITV tonight at 9pm.

DCI BanksAnd if we’re going to have to stay with ITV then it’s inevitable, I’m afraid, that we’re going to have to mention one of the above names. Banks, for example. DCI Banks, Stephen Tompkinson’s grim-faced Dales copper, is back.

Adapted from Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks books, Alan Banks is a former Metropolitan Police copper who downsized to the Dales. Robinson emigrated to Canada in 1974, and writes about the fictional town of Eastvale from Toronto.

In this new series, Banks does have quite a good reason to look heartily pissed-off, as the blurb confirms:

What Will Survive When Banks’ suffers a massive personal loss, along with knowledge that Annie is back with her former boyfriend David, he is forced to navigate a complex murder investigation while still grieving.

A young Estonian woman is found dead on a piece of wasteground, suspected of being buried alive. As they piece together her movements, the team uncover a world of prostitution and drugs hidden behind a respectable veneer. They discover the murder victim had come to the UK searching for her sister, who went missing recently. No one wants to talk – but they eventually trace her sister’s pimp, who claims to run a legitimate escort business.

Helen and Banks make inroads with the prostitutes’ driver and Helen begins to suspect his autistic son might have had something to do with Katrin’s death, but when their house is burned down in a tragic fire Banks and his team begin to uncover an even more disturbing truth.

You can see DCI Banks on Wednesday at 9pm on ITV.

The FollowingNow that Jack Bauer gone into hibernation, the most hapless action hero on the small-screen must be Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy. He’s back in the third series of so-bad-it’s-good The Following on Sky Atlantic, Saturday night at 9pm.

Now his usual antag Joe Carroll is on Death Row, we are promised a new Big Bad and, importantly, new show-runners. Amen to that.




Crime Thriller Book Log: Horowitz, Kerr, Samson, McNab & Mosse

We haven’t done of these Book Logs for, like, yonks, so — let’s do it! 

*Crime Thriller Fella fist pumps and makes a bit of a fool of himself*

MoriartyPlenty of writers have taken liberties with the legacy of the World’s Greatest Detective but Holmes fan Anthony Horowitz, whose Sherlock novel The House Of Silk was warmly-received, has perhaps more right than most to do so.

In his new book, Moriarty, he presents his own version of what happened after Conan Doyle got tired of his creation and had him topple over the Reichenbach Falls.

The blurb is wearing glasses and a false moustache:

Sherlock Holmes is dead.

Days after Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty fall to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls, Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase arrives in Europe from New York. The death of Moriarty has created a poisonous vacuum which has been swiftly filled by a fiendish new criminal mastermind who has risen to take his place.

Ably assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction, Frederick Chase must forge a path through the darkest corners of the capital to shine light on this shadowy figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, a man determined to engulf London in a tide of murder and menace.

Horowitz takes Jones, one of Conan Doyle’s minor characters, and puts him centre-stage. He also turns the spotlight on the mysteriously devilish Napoleon Of Crime. Professor James Moriarty has increasingly emerged as something of an important so-and-so in the Holmesiverse, but he only ever appeared in two Holmes stories — and was created specifically so Conan Doyle could get rid of the detective he had grown so weary of.

I recklessly predict Moriarty will sell like hot cakes in both hardback and on The Device.

January WindowIf a slice of orange at half-time is more your thing, January Window is the first in a new series by Philip Kerr, writer of the acclaimed Bernie Gunther novels.

Now Kerr is aiming to score from the spot, heh, with his new series which features Premiership fixer and coach Scott Manson.

Authors can sometimes get a red card from readers, heh, when they substitute a high-scoring character, heh, but as the author of a series of stand-alone novels, Kerr is nothing if not tactically astute. He’s a writer who always gives 110%, Brian. God, I’m even boring myself with all this football hilarity.

The blurb is stepping up to the spot:

Everyone knows football is a matter of life and death.

But this time, it’s murder.

Scott Manson is team coach for London City football club. He’s also their all-round fixer – he gets the lads in to training, and out of trouble, keeps the wags at bay and the press in his pocket. The players love him, the bosses trust him.

But now London City manager Joao Zarco is dead, killed at his team’s beloved stadium at Silvertown Docks. Even Scott Manson can’t smooth over murder… but can he catch the killer before he strikes again?

Set in the glamorous but corrupt world of Premier League football, this is a gripping thriller from a bestselling crimewriter.

January Window is out in hardback and kindle.

LamentationLamentation is the latest Shardlake novel from CJ Samson. It’s not available on parchment, sadly, but you can get it in all the modern bindings – hardback, paperback and on The Device. Samson’s hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake is coming to the end of Henry VIII’s reign, but worry not Shardlake fans, the author has said the series will continue into the reign of the Virgin Queen.

The blurb could well be longer than the Magna Carta:

Summer, 1546.

King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government of Henry’s successor, eight-year-old Prince Edward. As heretics are hunted across London, and the radical Protestant Anne Askew is burned at the stake, the Catholic party focus their attack on Henry’s sixth wife, Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor, Queen Catherine Parr.

Shardlake, still haunted by events aboard the warship Mary Rose the year before, is working on the Cotterstoke Will case, a savage dispute between rival siblings. Then, unexpectedly, he is summoned to Whitehall Palace and asked for help by his old patron, the now beleaguered and desperate Queen.

For Catherine Parr has a secret. She has written a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, so radically Protestant that if it came to the King’s attention it could bring both her and her sympathizers crashing down. But, although the book was kept secret and hidden inside a locked chest in the Queen’s private chamber, it has – inexplicably – vanished. Only one page has been found, clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer.

Shardlake’s investigations take him on a trail that begins among the backstreet printshops of London but leads him and Jack Barak into the dark and labyrinthine world of the politics of the royal court; a world he had sworn never to enter again. Loyalty to the Queen will drive him into a swirl of intrigue inside Whitehall Palace, where Catholic enemies and Protestant friends can be equally dangerous, and the political opportunists, who will follow the wind wherever it blows, more dangerous than either.

The theft of Queen Catherine’s book proves to be connected to the terrible death of Anne Askew, while his involvement with the Cotterstoke litigants threatens to bring Shardlake himself to the stake.

For ValourFor Valour. It can only be the title of the latest Andy McNab, and indeed it’s the sixteenth Nick Stone thriller. Nick is a mercenary and a former member of the SAS, and a parent to boot – he is, also, you will not be in the least surprised to know, a maverick. The kind who wanders the world getting into all sorts of scrapes, usually involving weapons of mass destruction.

The blurb is locked and loaded:

When a young trooper is shot in the head at the Regiment’s renowned Killing House, Nick Stone is perfectly qualified to investigate the mysterious circumstances more deeply. He has just returned from Moscow – still trying to come to terms with the fact that his girlfriend and baby son are safer there without him – so combines an unrivalled understanding of the Special Forces landscape with a detachment that should allow him to remain in cover.

But less than forty-eight hours later, a second death catapults him back into the firing line – into the telescopic sights of an unknown assassin bent on protecting a secret that could strike at the heart of the establishment that Stone has, in his maverick fashion, spent most of his life fighting to protect.

And now the clock is ticking, Stone hurtles from the solitude of a remote Welsh confessional to Glencoe – whose shadows still whisper of murder and betrayal – and on to Southern Spain, in an increasingly desperate quest to uncover the truth about a chain of events that began in the darkness of an Afghan hillside, and left a young man haunted by the never-ending screams of a friend the Taliban skinned alive.

The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting TalesAnd, finally, for you supernatural fiends – The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales is a collection of stories by Kate Mosse, which has just come out in every format imaginable.

It’s a series of ghost stories – just in time for Halloween, of course – in which readers of Mosse’s enormous and dense novels, such as Labyrinth, can get a sense of how the author developed her style – many of Mosse’s preoccupations, of timeslips and historical hauntings, are here.

Indeed, some of these stories have been published before. It’s perfect for those autumn evenings, of course. However, a real log fire doesn’t come included, and you may have to buy your own candles and nightdress.


Binary Witness – Rosie Claverton

Binary witnessIf you’re introducing to the world a singular new heroine, both eccentric and damaged, you may want to consider mixing in a cake bowl the DNA of Lincoln Rhyme and Lisbeth Salander. You may want to add a dash of Holmes and the scowling vulnerability of Chloe from 24. Dribble in a tot of Gregory House and then season with a pinch of Rear Window – and just the merest hint of the shabby tech of Torchwood. Let the recipe stew in a darkened flat for a lifetime and – voila – what you have is the first of the Amy Lane Mysteries.

Rosie Claverton’s fast-paced novel Binary Witness is an unashamed geeky mash-up of crime references. Her protagonist Amy Lane is an agoraphobic computer genius, wracked by anxiety attacks, who solves crime from her bolt hole somewhere in Cardiff. And, of course, we’re not talking parking violations.

Boot up the blurb:

Police detectives rely on Amy Lane to track the digital debris of their most elusive criminals—when she’s not in the throes of a panic attack. After two students disappear in Cardiff, Amy uncovers photographic evidence that they’ve been murdered. From the safety of her computer, she looks through the city’s digital eyes to trace the steps of a killer.

Amy’s investigation requires footwork, however, and the agoraphobic genius can’t hack it alone. She turns to her newly-hired cleaner, ex-con Jason Carr. Jason is fascinated by both Amy and the work, and can’t refuse even when she sends him into situations that risk returning him to prison.

The killer strikes again and again, and Amy and Jason are the only investigators closing in on him. But Amy’s psyche is cracking under the strain, and Jason’s past is catching up with him. To stop the next murder, they must hold their unconventional partnership together at any cost.

There’s plenty to like in Binary Witness. It has an offbeat geeky charm – fun and knowing and full of sly crime and pop culture references. The set-pieces – a couple of long sequences in a hospital and at a train station – are really exciting, and Claverton really nails Cardiff’s vibrant cityscape, its young tribes. Its street gangs and students, the bars and clubs, the social media hubs. Claverton’s eventual revelation of the identity of the killer is a terrific sleight of hand.

What Claverton does really well is give a real sense of how people exist in two worlds now: in the real world, rarely hidden from the CCTV that follows their every move in public, and online, where they can be increasingly tracked and traced, hunted from afar like prey in the jungle. It’s great fun watching Amy doing her thing in the dark nest of her flat, on a computer called Aeon with which she has an oddly romantic attachment. Bringing up public records, plucking information from online forums and analysing sound waves, watching the world in her own fortress of solitude.

The author is also a scriptwriter and her gallery of characters, such as Amy and Jason, the police detectives Bryn and Owain, and her visiting profiler Eleanor Deaver – you see what she did there? – enjoy the kind of easy relationship you’d perhaps see in tightly-formatted cop series on Sky Living.

I would have liked to have seen more conflict among her cast, maybe. The relationships are touching and ring true, and Amy is an enjoyably flinty character – both imperious and vulnerable, like all our favourite geniuses – but Jason is perhaps less well-defined, to my mind. He’s an ex-con supposedly with a history of violence in street gangs, but he’s also a pussycat who loves his mum and his sister, is devoted to Amy and the old ladies he cleans for.

After some initial suspicion, Jason seems to work happily alongside Cardiff’s finest and charm his way in just about anywhere. He gets hit over the bonce, and gets into the sack with a victim’s flat-mate, he takes part in chases and, as Amy’s representative on earth, races across the city – but a few more rough edges would maybe give him more bite.

Amy, enclosed in her flat, humming with the sound of servers, remains something of an enigma at the end, her backstory not fully explored, but with another book called Code Runner on the way, you get the feeling that Jason’s going to be running around Cardiff for quite some time yet.

Binary Witness is out now, published on the Carina Press, which means you can download it right now.

You may also remember that a few weeks back Rosie did one of Crime Thriler Fella’s hugely-prestigious Intel Interviews. To find out more about Amy, Binary Witness and the book’s path to publication, go here.