Summer reading

As I write crime thrillers, it’s good to step outside the genre and read something rather different. Here are some of the books I’ve recently read and enjoyed that focus on relationships (and maybe a few crimes!).

I was fascinated by Exquisite (Orenda Books) by Sarah Stovell. The novel centres on the affair which develops between Bo Luxton, a best selling author who is married with two children living in the Lake District and Alice Dark a young aspiring writer in a dead end job and relationship in Brighton. They meet at a workshop run by Bo and their friendship develops via emails and then Alice’s visits to the author. The story is brilliantly told from both viewpoints and both characters are unreliable in their narration. Totally absorbing .

In The Cruelty of Lambs (Urbane Publications) Angelena Boden tackles the complicated issue of domestic abuse. Her main characters – Ian and Una ­– are well drawn and the plot moves along at a cracking pace. The narrative switches from Ian, a cellist who lost his teaching job when wrongly accused of inappropriate behaviour, to Una, a high-flyer who stands to lose the business she built up. Financial ruin faces them but their reactions couldn’t be more different. The supporting characters – friends of the couple who become entangled in the situation – are realistic and their concerns are credible. A thought-provoking and often disturbing read which challenges your preconceptions.

If you like a sexy and mature romantic read, you’ll love Seeking Eden by Beverley Harvey (Urbane Publications).  Kate and Neil decide to move out of London after they are burgled and settle into a new, up-market housing estate. But Neil’s job is still in the capital and he spends some of the week staying over at a friend’s flat leaving Kate to her own devices and her new neighbours and Ben – the boyfriend who had walked out on her years ago and now wants to rekindle their relationship… A good contemporary read with well-drawn characters.

One of my favourite recent reads is My Name is Lucy Barton (Penguin), my first foray into Elizabeth Strout’s fiction. I love a first person narrative when it’s told well, and this one is perfection told by Lucy Barton, from her hospital bed, reminiscing about her family and their poverty, which isolated them from the community where they lived. Lucy moved up in the world and became estranged from her parents but it is her mother’s unexpected vigil in the hospital room that helps Lucy reassess her past and move towards a different future. A short but totally absorbing read.

Currently reading and would recommend Jackie Buxton’s Glass Houses and Beware the Cuckoo by Julia Newman, both published by Urbane Publications.

CrimeFest 2017

This time last week I was on the train to Bristol and my second CrimeFest courtesy of my publishers Urbane Publications.

What a difference a year makes! Last year I was looking forward to the publication of Dancers in the Wind in October. This year I had just celebrated the launch of the second Hannah Weybridge thriller, Death’s Silent Judgement. And I was booked to take part in a panel!

There are often three panels taking place at the same time so it’s wise to study the programme beforehand and make decisions. Friday was a busy day for me as I went to four panels and then appeared on one of the last ones of the day “Journalists: Characters who tell stories for a living” moderated by Rod Reynolds. Once I’d got over my nerves, this was great fun and the other three panelists, Walter Lucius, Antti Tuomainen and Matt Wesolowski were a hoot.

On the Friday evening there were two drinks receptions – the first being the Crime Writers’ Association’s Dagger Announcement always fun with a thrill of expectation. Not mine I hasten to add, but one day…

One of the wonderful things about CrimeFest is meeting up with other writers, book bloggers and readers, publishers and agents. Some of whom I know well, others I’ve enjoyed getting to know better. There was a wonderful woman from Melbourne who had a great idea for circumventing having to take numerous signed copies back with her. She asked authors on the panels to sign her programme and then bought the books in her home city.

Last year I had to leave on the Saturday morning to attend a wedding, so this year I booked for the Gala Dinner which was great fun – especially sitting with and near other Urbane authors. The only disappointment was that Matthew Smith, CEO of Urbane Publications, was unable to join us.

Listening to other authors discussing their work is fascinating and instructive. My favourite panel was the last one I went to before leaving: Short Stories – Motives for Murder moderated by Martin Edwards  and joined by fellow CWA grandees Ann Cleeves, Janet Laurence, Peter Lovesy and LC Tayor. The rapport between these five was brilliant and as writers they are inspirational.

So dates in the diary for CrimeFest 2018!

Panel photo courtesy of Joy Kluver.


Death’s Silent Judgement Launch Party


What better place to launch a book than at the scene of the first murder? In Death’s Silent Judgement, the first body is discovered in the crypt at St John the Evangelist Church at Waterloo. So in November 2016, I tried to reserve the crypt, only to discover that publication day – 11 May, 2017 – was already taken! Only slightly disappointed, I booked Tuesday 16 May two days before CrimeFest in Bristol.

The crypt proved to be the perfect venue for my launch although we did have to supply the glasses for the wine we brought with us. However the bar was soon set up and the room began to fill with familiar faces.

It was lovely to be supported by fellow Urbane authors: Lloyd Otis, Andrew Smith, Julie Newman, Simon Michael and Hugh Fraser (unfortunately Pete Adams’ train was held up so he isn’t in the photo). Sadly the CEO of Urbane Publications, Matthew Smith, was ill and couldn’t attend.

By happy coincidence, I know the vicar at St John’s and was delighted that Revd Canon Giles Goddard managed to pop down to wish me luck with the book.

At occasions like these it’s important to thank all the people who helped bring a book to fruition. Ian Patrick who was in the Met during the 1990s when the book is set and checked some facts for me, now lives too far away for London parties but Dr Geoff Lockwood (pictured) arrived in time for the speech!

Numerous friends have helped me in so many varied ways – some of them aren’t even aware that I used one of their traits for a character. However a special thanks must go to my amazing daughter, Olivia who is always such a fabulous support and is ready to roll her sleeves up to run the bar and keep smiling!

I had a brilliant time and everyone spoke of the wonderful atmosphere – and at least there were no dead bodies to haunt us!

You can see more launch photos in an album on my Facebook page.

Death’s Silent Judgement is available in bookshops, Hive (free P&P) and Amazon.

Death’s Silent Judgement – Blog Tour

10 May – If In Doubt Read  Review

11 May – Damp Pebbles – Review

11 May  – Linda’s Book Bag – The Challenges of Writing a Sequel

12 May – Off The Shelf Books – Best of Crime

13 May – The Quiet Knitter – My Inspiration for Death’s Silent Judgement

14 May – Liz Loves Books – 20 Questions

15 May – Anne Bonny Book Reviews – Review and Q&A

16 May – Crime Book Junkie – Guest Post on Minor Characters

17 May – Have Books Will Read – Review

18 May – Grab This Book – Q&A

19 May – By The letter Book Reviews – My Writing Day

Sealskin by Su Bristow

Having read Sealskin, I can only describe the experience as what I imagine it would be like to be a selkie slipping back into my seal skin – the feeling of coming home, warmth and unbounded joy in a narrative that is perfectly constructed and beautifully written.

From the opening words until the end, Su Bristow engages and enthrals the reader and takes us on a journey of discovery and transformation on so many levels. The protagonist, Donald, has felt himself to be an outsider all of his life. His mother, Bridie, came to the small Scottish community on her marriage and was, at first, distrusted but was able to integrate herself by caring for the sick and being a midwife to the women. She stayed on after her husband was lost at sea and brought her son up on her own.

Donald has remained on the peripheries of this society. Bullied at school and later by workmates he keeps himself to himself until one evening he commits an act, which changes the whole course of his life. His subsequent marriage to Mairhi and the birth of his son help assimilate him into the community in ways he would never have envisaged. Su Bristow charts this transformation with delicacy and insight.

In Sealskin relationships are explored with perceptiveness and the evocation of the small Scottish fishing community with its diverse characters from wise women to drunken men who treat their wives badly while others look on. The children’s personalities are equally well developed. By the end of the book each character is seen in a different light.

Few authors attain these heights of sincerity, artistic authenticity and give readers such a warm glow.

Cannot recommend highly enough.

Published by Orenda Books who gave me a copy of the book, Sealskin is available from Amazon and bookshops.

Follow Su Bristow on Twitter @SuBristow

The Gift Maker by Mark Mayes

Where to begin to review a book that defies categories and genre classification? From the first line of The Gift Maker the reader is absorbed into a world that is both real and unreal, secular and magical. A fantasy and a morality tale. A world in which male students get drunk, spout philosophical polemics and lust after young women who seem to have a lot more self-discipline.

One such student, Thomas Ruder receives a strange package in the middle of the night at his lodgings but refuses to open it. The next day, the young woman he’d love to know better, Liselotte Hauptmann, confides that she too has received an unsolicited gift and she takes him back to her rooms to reveal its contents…

Dauman is the gift maker who has a special present for the third friend Johan called Jo. Each of them makes his or her way independent of each other to the border town of Grenze where a strange impresario, Reynard, pulls the theatrical strings and weaves a tantalising web of subterfuge.

Mark Mayes creates worlds within worlds using smoke and mirrors and provides a challenging and thought-provoking read. Some of the descriptions I found to be almost too detailed in their gruesomeness they and reminded me of Dickens with his visions of the debauchery, poverty and evil of Victorian London. And yet this is counterbalanced by poetic twists of fantasy which will have you enthralled.

References to fairy tales abound, plus nods to the book of Genesis and the Holy Trinity of the New Testament. The final chapters are far more lyrical in tone – and when you get to the metamorphosis/transfiguration you’ll see why.

Mark Mayes is a masterful and original storyteller. His unique narrative style is truly inspired and I found this book totally fascinating and recommend it to anyone who is looking for a book that is far from ordinary.

Published by Urbane Publications on 23 February 2017, The Gift Maker is available from Amazon.

Follow Mark on Twitter @Mark_J_Mayes

A lesson in humility

For most of my life I have led a blessed existence. I come from a loving, supportive family and have had the luxury of working in areas that I love. Just like anyone I’ve had my sad and lonely moments and times when I’ve earned no money and wondered if I’d ever clear my debts. But I have never experienced homelessness. I have never had to rely on sofa surfing or been reduced to sleeping rough.

My second crime thriller, Death’s Silent Judgement, features some homeless people who used to inhabit Cardboard City in the Bullring, Waterloo in the 1990s. This weekend I learned what it is like for the homeless in 2017.

St John The Evangelist in East Dulwich joined the Robes Project, which operates in South London, providing overnight accommodation, food and company for people who would otherwise be on the streets. An unimaginable hardship during the freezing weather we have been experiencing.

I was part of the host team on Saturday. Previously a friend had said that one of the female guests loved reading crime thrillers and he’d told her a “famous” (ha ha) author would be on the team. So I took along a copy of Dancers in the Wind for her.

She thanked me and when I asked if she’d like me to sign it, commented that she’d never had a book dedicated to her before except the Bible. I thought that not many people do get author signed copies unless they’re in the rarified world of book launches and Twitter and duly wrote in the book for her.

She thanked me then looked at the book again. “Oh but you wrote this!” What she had meant by her earlier comment was that nobody had ever given her a book and signed it. No “love from” in a Christmas or birthday gift. I was humbled as I was several times that evening.

The food that people had cooked and brought was fabulous – every taste and dietary requirement was catered for and our guests were appreciative. A five star rating. As someone who has to be dairy free I could only look on longingly at the fabulous chocolate gateau. Everyone had more than enough to eat and had warmed up. The evening took on a party atmosphere with chess, cards and conversation. For others there was a chance to sit back and contemplate or read the newspapers.

I can only admire the good humour of our guests – some of whom actually work full time but still cannot afford somewhere to live, a cruel irony. Some shared a little of their story, some flirted and cracked jokes. I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d react in their situation. I moan enough as it is.

Those people were a joy to be with and gave us a lesson in humility that I think most of the hosts took away with them. It is an indictment of our government that more and more people are homeless through no fault of their own. A situation we should all be calling government to rectify as a priority. And please nudge me when I start moaning about my lot in life.

Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary

I have been a fan of Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rose crime series since the DI’s first outing in Someone Else’s Skin which won the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year 2015. With each new book Ms Hilary’s writing has become more confident and assured. Quieter Than Killing continues this impressive trend.

This is police procedural crime writing at its best with great, credible characters portrayed in a sensitive and intelligent manner. The private lives of Marnie and her sidekick the wonderful Noah are drip-fed into the narrative keeping readers on their toes as they progress through the series.

A continuing thread throughout all the novels is the brutal murder of Rose’s parents by Stephen, the then fourteen-year-old boy they had been fostering for several years. The teenager is now a young man who has been moved to an adult prison. He is a tangle of thorns in her flesh which she must unravel.

During her current investigation into a series of vicious assaults thought to be carried out by vigilantes, Marnie is drawn into another enquiry when the tenants of the house she inherited from her parents and now lets out, become victims of what seems a random and senseless attack. Except there is nothing random about it at all and Marnie is convinced Stephen is the key which links back to her own investigation.

Quieter than Killing reads well as a standalone novel but why would you deny yourself the pleasure of reading the first three books in the series?

Someone Else’s SkinNo Other Darkness and Tastes Like Fear  are all published by Headline and are available from Amazon.

I received a review copy of this book.

You can pre-order the hardback or kindle version of Quieter Than Killing which will be published on 9 March, 2017.