What's next after the new Gray...

Hello from the North West!

Well, autumn is officially upon us here, August ended with a particularly soggy note. Not that I’ve spent much time outside, it’s all hands to the pump – my hands at least!

As I mentioned in my last newsletter this, and future notes for the foreseeable, will cover the mechanics of the new book I’m writing to give a bit of insight as to how, what and when. Originally, I was going to work on the next Gray novel (The Silent Dead will be published on 17th September). However, I’ve decided to work instead on a completely new series in conjunction with my editor / agent. This isn’t to say Sol won’t return – he certainly will (he’s left with a bit of a problem at the end of the new book).

The reason for something new is constraint – the characters, Gray in particular, restrict to a certain degree the subject matter and style I write in. As Lee Child says, books in a series should be, “Different, but the same.”

The Konstantin series is a good case in point – he’s a totally different character (ex-KGB officer in hiding) as is the narrative style – short, punchy sentences. The underlying similarity is, of course, Margate.

So, at the moment I’m in an outlining phase. When I’m working on a new novel that’s all I do – write, write, edit, edit. I try hard not to think about the next idea to distract myself. Once the finished manuscript goes off to the editor for a good kicking I swing into the marketing phase – there’s a lot to get ready to publish a book – blurb, cover, author quotes, the mechanics of setting up on Amazon. The list goes on (quite a bit).

Then the MS comes back from editing and I’ll take a week or so to implement everything before it goes for a final copy edit. When the updated MS returns again I check and implement the suggestions. This whole stage can take four to six weeks. It’s good down time and that’s when I’ll settle into the thinking and outlining.

I tend to have a piece of paper to hand and jot down a few ideas, then put them into a word document and just build as I go. I’ll bounce a couple of ideas off friends and my wife but usually this is a solo process as I pull together a five or six page list of character motives, key events and actual chapters.
Not this time.

In a big change a couple of days ago a handful of ideas went to my editor, Al – three events which drive the new story I'm considering, three events over which the protagonist has no control. Thankfully, Al liked the approach so next I pulled together a two page outline, just focusing on the main key events. The beginning and middle are nicely fleshed out, the end is simply a conclusion at this stage; there’s still a fair bit to flesh out for the protagonist to actually achieve his goal.

Right now (literally) I’m waiting for feedback from Al. Theoretically the more time we spend on the preparation, the writing ‘should’ be faster. In the past I barely outlined at all. I’d write maybe 90 – 100,000 words and end up with a 60,000 word novel because so much of the text was useless. That’s a very time consuming and frustrating way to operate, believe me… The trouble is I always itch to get going.

Anyway, I’ll be back in touch soon with an update. In the meantime here’s the cover for the new Gray to keep you going!

And, I'm always happy to chat, feel free to drop me a line either here or in my closed Facebook group.

All the best.

Keith

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The day the newsletter came back to life...

Hello from the North West where it's been rather soggy recently. You may have seen the Whaley Bridge dam problems - Whaley is just up the hill from us. Thankfully, the dam isn't going to burst now, it seems. Our village wouldn't have been affected directly if it had have gone. However, a few days before we did suffer some pretty severe flooding locally with quite a few houses hit (several mill races run through our area). My drive home from work in Manchester was particularly hairy - top three most stressful drives ever! I only just avoided being trapped.

So, it's been a few months since I was last in touch - massive apologies for this. Time recently has been a bit (a lot) crazy with working on Gray 6 (submitted last week to my editor) and working on audiobooks for all my crime back catalogue (Burn The Evidence is now out with the rest to follow). Along with rebranding (new photo above) and all that stuff. Meaning I get a few days off before starting something new.

Speaking of which, ideas ... I try not to think much, if at all, about the plot of a new book while writing the current one so one doesn't interfere with another. My writing process is partially structured, partially evolutionary. I tend to have one core idea which is the main investigation (in the new Gray a mummified baby is found in a box - who is she? Why is she there?). I'll also have another investigation running alongside (again, the new book has teenagers embarking on a life of crime getting a lesson from someone with a dog). The story strands may or may not be linked directly - other than it's Gray investigating. Of course, his personal life is messy - his other half, Wyatt, is back at the station.

Right now I'm mulling the new idea (which I'll keep quiet on for now, sorry) by writing an outline - several paragraphs or bullet points listing the main story points, the character motivations and general actions I'd like to fit in. Then I'll list the chapters (40 minimum) and what happens in each. Sounds structured, right? Somewhat. My ideas tend to morph and develop while I'm writing meaning I usually get stuck along the line and always some text (maybe 000s of words) comes out. I could write five drafts of a book (maybe more). It can be highly frustrating - but I'm a lot better now than when I didn't outline at all!

Creatively, I'm best in the mornings. I write before everyone gets up (like now) and time is limited (my day job is a Sales Director). Which is why the newsletter dropped away (temporarily!) while I focused on Gray 6.

Going forward, as I plan the new book I'll send out updates to you meaning I'll be sharing the process of writing in (almost) real-time every couple of weeks. Drop me a line back if there's anything, in particular, you'd like to know about and I'll happily answer (except my credit card pin number).

Anyway, enough of me wittering for now, my wife is moving about the house and the shopping is going to be delivered soon (the cupboards are empty after leaving the eldest teen here for a week).

By the way, if you prefer to talk over social media I have a small but active (closed) Facebook group where I post stuff regularly. Most recently a few pics of Anglesey where we were (and miss).

All the best.

Keith

May Newsletter

Welcome to my regular newsletter and I hope you're well. Feedback from my last note was mainly about Mack, our 15-month-old Wire Fox Terrier. He's the first dog we've ever owned and we got him when he was 12 weeks old. Little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for... despite having had three children (they're 19, 14 & 11 now so the baby stuff is a dim memory) the need to get up in the middle of the night for him to go to the toilet was a shock.

Terriers are quite intelligent, which basically we now know means they get their noses into everything. He's a chaser, throw anything and Mack will go after it. However, that doesn't necessarily mean he'll bring it back! And if there's a distraction nearby when he's off the lead then he does tend to chase the shiny, interesting stuff rather than come back...

This is Mack the day we brought him home with my youngest.

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More on Mack in the next newsletter!

Books

Unsurprisingly, books are quite important (I think!). There's a few I've been lucky enough to read in advance of publication. First and foremost is MW Craven's second Washington Poe novel titled Black Summer. It's out 20th June - read the blurb HERE.

And there's newcomer Noelle Holten with her debut Dead Inside an interesting police procedural. It's out 31st May and is just 99p at the moment.

Finally is Howard Linskey who writes noir and police procedurals but has recently shifted into WW2 thrillers with Ungentlemanly Warfare. Well worth a read... 

Is there anything you'd recommend to me right now?

Writing

I write in my spare time, I have to with a family and a busy job (I'm a Sales Director for a US business). Usually first thing in the morning before anyone is up. In the evening I do the admin and marketing stuff (like this letter).

As a self publisher all of the non-writing stuff sits with me, so it's a balancing act. I tend to enjoy talking to people, so sometimes writing suffers (stupidly). The sixth Gray novel is in process and definitely a bit back seat.

The 5th Gray, Pity The Dead, is published 20th May. But enough of that for now...

To finish, here's another Mack pic...

And if you want to see more of him he has an account on Instagram called Mack and the Humans (that's us).

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April Newsletter

Hello from the North West!

I hope you're well and enjoyed the fantastic weekend weather. There's not been a cloud in the sky here, which is unusual on the edge of the Peak District. As usual, this is my monthly musing.

Books I've Been Reading

Sadly, this is a rather short list, I just don't have the time these days with all the writing. Recently I finished Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd - he's a pathologist and this is an outline of his work history. Looking forward there's Black Summer by MW Craven coming soon and Dead Inside by Noelle Holten. I read an early ARC of the former and it's great and I've an early copy of the latter too.

TV

Well, there's some stunning stuff on TV right now. Series 5 of Line of Duty and series eight of Game of Thrones have been keeping us entertained. Other stuff we're enjoying is Sex Education on Netflix (a surprisingly good story of teenage angst)and another surprise has been the sometimes gruesome Santa Clarita Diet.

A New Book

Gray 5, titled Pity The Dead, will be out on May 20th. It would have been a week earlier but I'm in Germany at an exhibition and one thing I learned from launching The Nudge Man was not to do so when distracted by another event (it was my 50th when Nudge came out).

In this latest installment, Gray discovers that junkies are dying but nobody really cares. There's a brutal new gang in town, replacing the bunch Gray arrested in 'Bury The Bodies' and Gray is trying to find his way in. I'll drop you a line around the launch with all the links.

Special Offers

I've several special offers running right now:

- The Konstantin box set (three books) is a ridiculous £2.99 / $3.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited. Pick it up HERE.
- The Gray four book box set is also free on KU HERE.
- The Eagle's Shadow is the first in a series about the Roman invasion of Britain which started not too far from Margate. It's 99p / 99c. find it HERE.
- The Nudge Man is down to £1.99, and is HERE.

As always, please feel free to drop me a line, I'm happy to talk. Otherwise, have a great week and all the best.

The Dog

You may recall me mentioning Mack, our dopey Wire Fox. Here he is (below) again...

All the best.

Keith

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March Newsletter

Hello from the North West of England! Spring is definitely in the air now! And spring is a time for change - starting with how I write to you. I've decided to send out a monthly newsletter, beginning now. Hopefully you'll find it interesting.

What I've Been Reading
To my shame - the answer is, not very much. For the last six months I've been spending a lot of time marketing and promoting, what little's left is taken up with writing and editing. So, frankly, I've been rubbish. Over Christmas I tackled Lee Child's latest (generally I find his works not so good now as they were for the first dozen or so) and a Bernard Cornwell from the Uhtred series. Since then I've picked up and put books down, nothing has held my attention. So, if you've a suggestion that'll knock my socks off, I'd love hear it.

What I've Been Watching
Nina, my wife, is obsessed with Chateau DIY (for those who haven't seen it, the content is about Brits buying a French chateau and doing it up - guess who's the most romantic of the pair of us?!).

We've also invested in Netflix and rattled through The Good Place before moving onto Once Upon A Time. The primary reason we picked this is because of Robert Carlyle who plays Mr Gold / Rumpelstiltskin. We used to watch a quirky crime series set in a remote Scottish village and starring Mr Carlyle, called Hamish Macbeth. The programme is based on books written by MC Beaton (she also wrote the Agatha Raisin series currently on TV too).

Otherwise, I've been having a bash at The Punisher (as I'm a bit of a comic book fan) after, much to my surprise, struggling with Better Call Saul. We're looking forward to the final GoT series, Stranger Things and the upcoming The Good Place.

What about you? Anything of interest, particularly crime related, to watch?

Writing
Hmm, this has been a bit of a struggle recently, I lost half of January and February battling away with a new, and as yet untitled, Gray (probably out in June). I tend to write early in the morning before everybody is up and try to produce a minimum of 1,000 words. I work from an outline - a breakdown of each chapter - but I have a tendency to be evolutionary too; the story shifts and changes over time, meaning I can end up in a writing cul de sac. Exactly what happened this time.

However, I'm through that now and belting away at the keyboard. The plan is to have a first draft by the end of the month before submitting to my editors (I use two - for the story and copy) at the end of March.

Then it's onto planning the next books (more on those in a subsequent letter). Speaking of which...

The Nudge Man
This is a totally new crime / black comedy novel and series due for release on April 2nd (which happens to be a milestone birthday I've not been looking forward to for quite a while!). It'll be out for pre-release at a special price seven days before launch date. If the book is received well then I'll write more in the series. I'm looking forward to seeing what you think to this one.

Newly Released Books
In case you missed it I've recently released two box sets, one consisting of the four Gray novels so far, the other containing three Konstantin's. You can find them here, if you wish. These are universal book links so you can choose the store you want:

Konstantin Box Set
Gray Box Set

Future Content
Finally, if there's anything you'd like to hear about in subsequent letters, just let me know, I'm always happy to talk. And if you receive more than one copy, please drop me a line and I'll deal with it. I've run several free book promotions so it's entirely feasible and the last thing I want to do is hassle you.

Speaking of promos there's one over at Bookfunnel called Great British Crime. There's a button below of you're interested.

I'll send these notes out monthly with the occasional note in between if there's something of value to say (!).

The Dog
And, just for the hell of it, here's a picture of the latest addition to our house (we got him in April!), a wire fox terrier called Mack. He's a massive handful...

All the best.

Keith

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Today's Teenage Triumph (a VERY rare event)

Teen manages to get himself a job in pub as tryout. Perfect, really (for him). Slides out of bed late, fifteen minute saunter away from home, five hours a couple of days a week.

That's how life really works, right?

Teen's first 'day' goes okay. What was supposed to be couple of hours, turned into five (however Teen grumbled about being two minutes early and having to stand outside, waiting. What total waste of life).

AND Teen manages to bring back kitchen towel from local shop (paid for, didn't steal). Teen gets chance for return to pub (four days later). Teen is worn out. He needs all ninety six hours to recover. Playing games apparently very important in doing so.

'Day' Two. Teen heads off. Comes back. Apparently pub wants to 'take it slow'. However, Teen has learnt something critical:

He Gets Staff Discount On Beer.

A triumph!

Underdog (that's me BTW) is rather pleased (also a rare event). Teen will be buying Underdog lots of beer from now on.

Underdog hopes Teen will be paying, but somehow doubts it.

Today's Teen Tomfoolery

This tale relates to Mid Teen, Teen's younger sister.

Mid Teen comes downstairs before school, uniform on etc. Boss Lady informs Mid Teen she is wearing mascara. Not allowed at school. Mid Teen denies all. Boss Lady is apparently mistaken.

Boss Lady repeats her assertion twice. Mid Teen says on both occasions that Boss Lady does not know what she is talking about. She clearly needs to go and lie down.

Boss Lady asks Mid Teen to come closer. Mid Teen reluctantly complies. Boss Lady suggests she spit in Mid Teen's eye to see if the mascara Mid Teen claims not to be wearing runs or not.

Mid Teen loses temper, admits she actually does have make up on. Storms upstairs to wash the stuff off in the five minutes before she has to leave to catch bus...

Today's Teenage Twattery

Boss Lady (wife) finds part time job in local company within walking distance. Part time office work. Boss tells Teen. While he is on his computer (probably playing games).

Teen throws arms violently up in the air. Says, never wants to work in an office. Boss says not all offices are the same and also use of computer in job. Perfect for Teen who did Computer Science A level and was going to do a degree in it too.

Teen is even more annoyed now. Never, ever wants to work with computers. Boss points out he is on a computer right now. Teen ignores irony.

Computer is coming out of Teen's room tonight...

Today's Teenage Tragedy

Teen thinks he has job at the pub he tried out at yesterday. Teen is next in Wednesday.

Teen doesn't know what days they want him, if at all beyond Wednesday. Teen doesn't know how many hours either.

Turns out several of Teen's friends already work at said pub. Teen is clueless of this fact until he arrives for work.

Teen has already resigned from part time cleaning job though.

Worst of all, Teen has no idea if there is staff family beer discount.

Today's Teen Trauma

Underdog (me) took Teen off to friend's house in nearby village. Lad (don't know his name, neither Teen nor Lad introduced themselves). Lad lives on cul-de-sac, maybe twenty houses, max. Lad amazed we managed to find him.

Lad bleats, 'Google Maps says my house is over there' (Lad flaps hand vaguely at other side of road). Lad continues, 'mobile reception is next to nothing'.

Lad even more flabbergasted when I told him managed to track house down by reading numbers outside each house. When I saw 16, knew was in the right place.

Lad literally speechless...

Author of the Week at Digital Ghost

 

British crime author, Keith Nixon, takes a scientific approach to noir, without sacrificing the artfulness.

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By Will Viharo

Keith Nixon is a British author I’ve known virtually for sometime via social media. I can “hear” his words in my head, whether fictional or Facebook posts, even though we’ve never met in person.

This is partly because he has a very affable public platform presence, but also because he’s one helluva skilled writer.

Sometimes we share a common language, but with different accents. This is true not only regarding national identity, but also when it comes to literary voice. For instance, there are many equally valid ways to translate “noir.”

Since I may never make it across the Pond, the colloquial term for the Atlantic Ocean, there’s a good chance I may never get to shake Keith Nixon’s hand. But I still feel a virtual kinship with him, since while I’m not a “crime writer” per se, we do share a certain hardboiled sensibility, even though my stuff is both acutely American and distinctly unconventional.

Keith, on the other hand, is a skilled wordsmith and storyteller who dedicates himself to the authentic art of grittily realistic noir fiction with the precision and passion of a serious scientist interested in solving problems large and small, leaving his own unique impression on the field as he goes.

And since we’re talking about carefully crafted creativity, I should mention this approach is no accident…
 

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You have experience as a chemist. Does this scientific background inform your crime fiction (since several are police procedurals) in any way, in terms of content, structure, or even daily writing regimen?

No and yes! Initially the science background was a drag, I was far too specific about the facts in the early days. I didn’t have sight that the story is the most important factor and specifics are there for support, not the other way around. So now I attempt a balance between the two – get the details right, but not so layered as to lose the plot (literally).

I used to be pretty rules orientated in most walks of life (cooking, for example. If a recipe said two hours at 250F, that’s when it came out, finished or not!) but a combination of 20+ years of my more artistic wife kicking me and a commercial job in sales where you have to think on your feet have altered the science stuff. Now it’s just a thread in my life.

In your view, what are the unique distinctions as well as the universal similarities between American and British noir fiction?

Wow, great question! It always amazes me when I see authors crossing the pond – American writers set in the UK and vice versa. I work for an American company and have travelled Stateside a lot. There’s a lot the same in terms of language and culture, and some yawning gaps too.

In terms of distinctions, language is one. The differences between how we speak are subtle, but then again, so are readers. I’ve read a couple of books where the author thinks they understand the British crime psyche but don’t. The result is everybody speaks like the Queen. Likewise with the reverse, everyone speaks like an Italian American from Goodfellas.

Ultimately, there’s a bit of a problem pigeonholing noir on such a broad basis – there are differences between Scottish, Irish and English noir (I’ve never read Welsh noir, so wouldn’t know). I’m sure it’ll be the same in the US. Most people revel in localization these days.

I guess ultimately everybody likes an engaging story, living characters, sappy dialogue and a sense of realism across pretty much every genre, right?

You are amazingly prolific, with several ongoing series to your credit, including Konstantin and Detective Solomon Gray, as well as historical fiction set during the Roman Empire. Commercial considerations aside, what compels you most to devote so much of your talent to this particular medium?

I’m a compulsion writer – I do something every day with regard to a book. Either at least 1,000 words on a manuscript or a marketing task, anything really. I have a full time job and a family so what little time I have needs to be used effectively. I can’t ever imagine not writing. I do so on holidays and birthdays too.

I started with historical fiction, I felt I needed a factual event to base a fictional story around (because of my scientific background!) as I didn’t feel I could come up with a whole book by myself. The research that went into those two books was ludicrous. Eighteen months from start to finish.

Then I was made redundant – which I wasn’t overly happy about. I realized I could kill people I didn’t like, but not get arrested for it, by writing a book and that got me into black comedy crime. Then I gravitated towards police procedurals – primarily for commercial reasons. Until then I’d written what I enjoyed.

The trouble was I lost sight of why I was writing – for fun. I started the Gray series and was fortunate enough to work with Allan Guthrie as an editor and mentor. He broke me apart as a writer and I feel I’m a lot better for it.

What are your influences, literary or otherwise?

I take little pieces of influence from all over. Lines of songs give me ideas, for example. Maybe for a character or a small scene. Then there’s the overall structure of a film and how it plays out. For example Fight Club, I love the multi-perspective aspect of the movie. And Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – how the seemingly unconnected strands of the story and the characters miss each other all the way up to the end.

From a literary perspective, I’ve read for as long as I can remember. And I’ve been writing on and off since I was nine – the two are inextricably linked, I think. I started with adventure stories, then to sci-fi, to fantasy, to thriller, historical fiction and finally to crime where I’ve stayed. My wife bought me three books by Scottish writer Ian Rankin. I’d never read police procedurals before and I was hooked. These days I read a lot less. Primarily because if I’m reading I’m not writing and I don’t want to subconsciously absorb other people’s ideas. However, it’s probably too late for that!

What’s next for you?

I’ve taken back the rights to all my previously published books, so there’s some marketing to be done (when I get time!).  The fourth and final Gray novel is being edited and should be out November 1st.  I also have the first book of a new series (black comedy crime again) written. I’ll be looking for an agent with that one.  And I’ve just started a new Konstantin for a bit of fun.
 

 

Review - Welcome Back Jack by Liam Sweeny

When Jack was six years old, his parents were brutally slain by a serial killer. The police later found drifter Clyde Colsen driving a stolen car, his clothes soaked in blood. He was tried, convicted and executed. Jack grew up knowing the police got their man.

Now a decorated homicide detective in New Rhodes, Jack arrives at the third crime scene of the “South End Killer” murders and finds his name. He will soon find out something else: thirty years ago, they got the wrong guy. And now the right guy’s come back to pay Jack and New Rhodes his bloody respects.

As Jack struggles to stay on the case, his cat-and-mouse game with the killer makes him wonder if he’s the cat or the mouse. His family and everyone in his life is fair game. As the killer escalates and threatens the entire city, Jack has a question he must answer in his desperation: can he stop the monster without becoming one?

Well, this is a nugget of a novel. Even at the outset Welcome Back Jack feels a little more than a standard crime thriller. There’s a host of strong characters, each is flawed and with enough history to make them interesting. Jack in particular, with his parents murdered, case closed. But is it?

There’s quite a powerful psychological element to the writing too. Sweeny (and therefore the killer) throws clues out like breadcrumbs. Leading Jack and the reader along an increasingly taut narrative.

The deaths are sufficiently gruesome to make the reader realise we’re dealing with a sick person (which is, I suppose, the definition of a serial killer) but without ever drifting into the realms of gruesome or meaningless gore.

The dialogue has an excellent depth to it. There’s plenty of conflict between the characters and beyond Jack (for example his father in law, also a cop, begins to question whether they caught the right man, the actual killer of Jack’s parents).

In addition the procedural element is believable and clearly well researched, the cops really feel like cops who know what they’re doing.

Sweeny’s admirers include heavyweights in the genre such as Ken Bruen, Les Edgerton and Joe Clifford. On the strength of this novel, it’s easy to see why.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals Blog.

Rating: Four Stars

Review - The Drowning Ground by James Marrison

When the body of a local farmer is found on the peak of a hill with a pitchfork rammed through his neck Detective Chief Inspector Guillermo Downes is called in. The deceased is Frank Hurst and well known to Downes. Ten years previously Downes investigated the seemingly accidental death of his wife, Sarah. It appeared she’d slipped over and banged her head before collapsing into their swimming pool. The death was viewed suspiciously by the close knit inhabitants of Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds.

Hurst came to Downes’ attention a second time when two girls went missing from the village on separate occasions. Both seemed to have been enticed away and were never seen again. The police believed the children knew their killer. But the person has never been found.

Downes goes to Frank Hurst’s house. What was once a grand construction is now a fortress. Most of the windows and doors are blocked up and the farmer was sleeping with a shotgun by his side. But who was Frank worried about? The interior is a mess, all except for Frank’s daughter’s room, but she ran away to London not long after Sarah’s death and never returned.

There’s clearly some mystery contained within the house, but before Downes is able to return someone sets a fire and the place burns furiously. Rather than destroying its secrets the conflagration reveals another body…

The dust jacket displays a large blurb from Linwood Barclay. He says that The Drowning Ground is, ‘Dark, gripping and unexpected.’ He gets it just about bang on.

James Marrison’s debut introduces Guillermo Downes, a moody copper with a difference. He’s half Argentinian, born and raised in South America, but now living in the Cotswolds. He’s like a fish out of water. As a point of interest the author is Cotswold born, but these days resides in Buenos Aires. It’s a decent guess that his own experiences of dislocation have been used to colour Downes, to great effect. Downes has a dark past that’s barely alluded to in the story, but he’s clearly a man with baggage. He lives and works in a small village where even third generation residents would be seen as newcomers.

There’s another unusual aspect to The Drowning Ground. The opening pages have a distinct feel to them, which is initially quite hard to pinpoint. If you weren’t aware of the setting the sense of place would be two-fold – exotic, say Cuba, with a 1950’s genteel feel to it.

Another intelligent element to the reading experience is Marrison’s process of a steady stream of reveals. Just as you’ve assumed an understanding of a character, the author will spring out another facet which twists the story a little more. The best example of this is Frank Hurst, the man whom the story really revolves around. It’s impossible to say more without giving anything away, but Marrison manages his character very well.

Most of the story is in first person, from Downes’ perspective. However, every now and again there’s a third person chapter in the head of his new sidekick, Graves. It works, but only partially. It gives some additional material which adds to the story, but seems to be used randomly. A little more of Graves would have been valuable. However, this is a minor issue. All said and done this is an assured debut which promises much for the future.

Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover

Rating: Four Stars

Review - Preserve The Dead by Brian McGilloway

Detective Sergeant Lucy Black of the Derry police force leads a full and complex life. Her father is suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and has been badly beaten by another inmate at the secure unit he’s currently in. But before she can complain about his treatment a body is discovered floating in the river that passes beneath the unit. Black drags the corpse ashore. It’s an old man, fully dressed and appearing as if he’s been at a funeral.

Investigation shows the old man was dead before he went into the river. Actually he was ready to be buried and had been embalmed. So how did he end up in the river and why?

With the corpse taken away and questions swirling in her mind, Lucy heads home to her father’s house, only to get sucked into a domestic abuse case. One of her neighbours asks for help. His sister’s wife, Fiona, has been badly beaten. Lucy agrees, but she doesn’t declare herself to be police in case it scares Fiona off and makes her return to her husband. Lucy awakes the next day to find she’s landed another case. A homeless man has been found in the compacter of a rubbish truck. He’d been emptied into the truck from a bin he’d been sleeping in. Only it wasn’t the compacter that killed him. The tramp had been beaten up first.

Lucy returns to the case of the floating man. She learns someone was cremated in his place, but all they have left are the ashes and some metal pins and plates. One of the plates is from the skull and it has a large cut in it. Seemingly the person was killed by a blow to the head. With multiple mysteries on her hands Lucy carries on digging and it appears the case of the homeless man and the unidentified cremation are connected. It transpires homeless men have been going missing all over Derry, drawn towards the offer of work by a mystery man in a van. But who was cremated and why was he killed? And how is he linked to Fiona’s husband, the wife beater? What Lucy eventually finds shocks her to the core.

Preserve The Dead is the second novel featuring DS Lucy Black. From the first page she is beset with a series of issues to resolve personally and professionally. Her father has Alzheimer’s, but there’s also the a difficult relationship with her mother, who left Lucy and her father when she was eight and happens to now be the Acting Chief Constable so is ultimately Lucy’s boss. The characterisation is strong. For example, it’s particularly easy to associate with Lucy and her troubles.

The book operates well enough as a stand-alone novel with minimal reference or impact from previous story lines. The only significant element is the tension with her partner Robbie, who was previously injured in a car bomb meant for Lucy. It’s a wise aspect to add, though, as it adds another dimension to her trouble and complex life.

One slight disappointment with the book is the editing. Sometimes the diction is repetitive and there are some mangled sentences. This aside, Preserve The Dead is a very good read and will appeal to anyone who enjoys police procedurals or strong female leads. McGilloway is a rising star in the crime world, and deservedly so.

Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover.

Rating: Four Stars

The Eagle's Shadow - over at David's Book Blurg

Synopsis

The British army is shattered, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by subterfuge and betrayal. Caradoc flees the battlefield, the crown heavy on his head and his heart set on retribution. He has to make hard decisions and tough compromises, but with the sovereignty of Britain at stake, personal pride sometimes has to take second place.

Emperor Claudius is determined to make as much political mileage as possible out of the Roman victory in an attempt to consolidate his own position. That doesn’t sit well with the Roman military, who have their own objectives and who will do whatever it takes to achieve them.

As the Romans consolidate their gains and begin to push west, Caradoc finds he has few friends left. He must turn to the Durotriges, a wild, hill fort dwelling tribe. But the Durotriges are riven by strife and petty squabbles.

Aulus Plautius, commander of the Roman army, brings his siege weapons to bear, can Caradoc resist the onslaught?

Review

Before I start have you read my review of The Eagle’s Shadow?? If not where have you been? Check it out here

Ok. So here we are trust back into the war between the British and Roman armies. During the first book we learn of a battle which turned out to be a major win for the Romans due to the divided loyalties of the British tribes at the time. This book continues on after book one and we are back we one of my favourite characters Fionn and the action is pretty much non-stop in this fast moving tale.

In the first book I really liked Caradoc but in this book you see a different side to the man. He becomes blinded by revenge and we see Fionn and his friends struggle to see eye to eye with his decisions. Fionn has his own demons in this book too.. I’m not saying too much as it would spoil it for you.

While Caradoc has his mind set firmly on revenge Fionn wants to hit back at the Romans so this book mainly focuses on the period where they are trying to gather support from the other tribes. Needless to say things do not go Fionn’s way.

Keith has written an excellent follow up book which he clearly researched well. I think it’s always hard to get the flow right between two books but the transition is seamless and it felt as if I’d never but the first book down. There were some great additions to the characters in this one which made the book feel fresh but you also had a lot of detail given to some of the characters from the first book which gave them more depth. I particularly enjoyed reading anything involving Anatolius.

One of the things I loved the most was the different point of views. You see the story play out from both the British and Roman stand point and it made for compelling reading

There’s only one downside to this book.. it had to end..I just wanted to turn the page and keep reading. It’s a true talent to keep a reader wanting more when it comes to a series of books but Keith managed to do this within the first few chapters and has hooked me in with his story telling so much already that I already have another non historical fiction piece of his in my review pile and I intend to read more of his work over the next few months

If you are a fan of the genre this series is a must!

Here’s hoping Keith writes Caradoc #3 soon!

The Corpse Role - over at Liz Loves Books

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Not everything that gets buried stays buried… sometimes things have a nasty habit of resurfacing…

When the body of a security van driver implicated in an unsolved £1.2 million heist turns up in a shallow grave two years later it’s just the beginning for Detective Inspector Charlotte Granger.

She embarks on an investigation that takes her into dangerous territory – a world of dirty cops, dodgy private investigators, local villains and nosy journalists. Meanwhile events from Granger’s own past are threatening to come back and haunt her..

Really terrific crime fiction from Keith Nixon – I basically read it in a day, bit of a page turner, some great characters and an authentic and hard hitting storyline.

Told in two timelines, brilliantly constructed and ever engaging, there is a beautiful flow to the prose that keeps you hooked right in, some twisty turny goodness and a jaw dropping ending.

Some really excellent plotting adds extra depth to both characters and storytelling, the past element being really most addictive – this is a crime thriller with heart, a mix of police procedural and thriller with intelligent storytelling and a sometimes almost noir feel.

You’ll note I havent said too much on the tale itself. For very good reason. Go find out!

Review - Long Way Down by Tony Black

Gus Dury is a down at heel ex-reporter with a dark past. He’s kicking his heels in life when Danny Murray, a runner for local gang boss Boaby ‘Shaky’ Stevens, asks Gus to do a job for him – find an old friend, Barry Fulton. Gus is reluctant, but £3,000 helps sweeten the deal. Gus quickly learns Barry has got involved with Irish gangsters encroaching onto Shaky’s patch and, unless he finds him soon, someone’s going to end up dead.

This standalone novella is part of Black’s Gus Dury series, the other four (Paying For It, Gutted, Loss, and Long Time Dead) are full length novels.

Long Way Down is a gem of a story. It’s theoretically a quick read, however I found myself spending a lot longer than normal with it simply because I wanted to stay immersed in the prose. This was a challenge because the action starts on the first page, when Danny steps into Gus’s sphere, and doesn’t let up.

The characters are very strong, Gus himself clearly has a deep background with references made to a difficult upbringing. He drinks, swears, fights – not someone you’d want your daughter to bring home. But he’s resolute, loyal, tough – someone you’d want at your back. The supporting cast of (few) friends and (many) enemies are equally entertaining – Gus mixes with some dubious company. A particular favourite is Mac the Knife, a man not to be messed with.

The dialogue is sharp and at times witty, despite the gritty and grimly sharp Edinburgh location which, is excellently described with a minimum of carefully chosen words and some local vernacular. For example:

The bar was dark, dingy. In days gone past there’d have been a pall of grey smoke you’d struggle to shine headlamps through. Now the nicotine-stained walls and ceiling looked painfully over-exposed – the woodchip papering would turn to writhing maggots after a few scoops.

And another:

I picked out the smell of p*ss and sickly-sweet Buckfast mingling on the grimy stairwell. Some of the young crew had been in to tag the walls since my last visit, and despite being a respecter of the creative urge I couldn’t help but think their efforts sucked balls. Right into a hernia.

The only ‘disappointment’ with Long Way Down? I finished it too quickly! Top drawer noir.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Rating: Five Stars

Review - A Room With No Natural Light by Douglas Lindsay

It’s a long, hot summer in the south of England and Pitt’s small vineyard is in crisis. The bank’s chasing debts and government inspectors are snooping around. Yet Pitt is drawn further and further into Yuan Ju’s dark and disturbing world. How far is he prepared to go to help her?

Pitt’s wife looks on, nervous and insecure, impotent with fear, while her mother watches everything, biding her time. She will be not fearful, but vengeful.

And walking through the vines in near silence, Pitt must address the most perplexing question of all. Where are the birds? Just a few dead at first, but soon the skies are empty.

In A Room With No Natural Light Lindsay succeeds again in creating a world and characters that are just off centre. The characters are full of angst and fascinating as a result. There’s Pitt, a man seemingly devoid of emotion, but singular in his focus, Yuan Ju who never says a word but communicates in volumes to Pitt, Daisy who’s Pitt’s wife and you’d think the worst woman in the world but she pales into insignificance next to her mother (simply called Mrs Cromwell). Last but not least is Hardyman, Pitt’s only friend and confidante, a polar opposite and interesting foil.

The setting is unusual – a vineyard steadily losing money and where birds suddenly start falling out of the trees, dead. But beneath it all Lindsay draws on an all too familiar set of sad tales of exploitation and loss which Pitt cuts through to make life better for himself.

Nobody writes quite like Douglas Lindsay and here he proves it yet again.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals.

Rating: Five Stars

 

The Eagle's Shadow - Review at David's Book Blurg

David kindly reviewed Caradoc #1 over at his blog recently:

This book is a fast paced, epic war story and boy did I enjoy it.

First of there is a lot of information in this book but Keith very handily added a section at the beginning of the book to explain the names used within the book since place names have changed over the years along with rivers etc. This was not only useful so I could set the scene but it was also very interesting information

We find ourselves thrust into time when Rome was planning to invade Britain and the author decided to tell his tale from both the Roman and the Britons view point. This gave a great feel to the book and broke up the action perfectly so you kept reading without even noticing the time pass.

Keith has picked a very interesting subject for the book and built on this story with the characters. There are a few I liked a lot.. Fionn & Etain stood out for me.  The action with Fionn had me hooked!

There are a large number of characters in this book; Because of this some don’t get a chance to develop. Once you read the book you can totally understand why though as there so much going on in the book it would be too much to squeeze in and also the story is so strong and violent it’s inevitable some of these characters will die

The author goes into some great detail describing the warfare tactics and clearly has researched well.

I felt the story easily pulled me in and I even found myself shouting in my head “Move, Move” when it came to clashes between the two armies.

One of the most interesting parts of this book for me was the relationships between the tribes in Britain at the time. I won’t spoil the book for you but these relationships coupled with the unified force of the Romans made for an epic tale

From reading the authors historical notes he gives a great insight into some of the characters and the time period and it’s definitely peaked my interest and made me want to read up on this time period.

I’m very pleased to see there is a follow up book and I’m looking forward to reading/reviewing that soon

Conclusion… Do I think this book is worth the 99p asking price currently on Amazon? Hell yes!

If you enjoy tales involving warfare, blood, guts, tension, betrayal then you will certainly like this book.

Review - The Point by Gerard Brennan

Paul Morgan, small time crook, crosses crime boss Mad Mickey one time too many. He’s given a week to get out of Belfast or suffer the consequences. Deciding it’s wisest to start again, Paul drags his brother Brian along to a backwater called Warrenpoint (which gives the story it’s title).

But before he departs forever, Paul steals and burns a van belonging to Mickey who can’t ignore the insult. As the brothers settle into their new life, Brian going straight, Paul finding new and increasingly serious ways to break the law, Mickey hunts them down.

I devoured this offering from Gerard Brennan. The style is pacy, direct and hard as nails. There’s an underlying sense of humour throughout that doesn’t sensationalise the criminal acts that come thick and fast.

The characters are excellently drawn, the dialogue snappy and the setting bleak. The Morgans are similar, yet different. Paul is totally incapable of changing his ways. He knows he’s in trouble from pretty much the first page, but he can’t help himself, despite the consequences this has for his brother. Brian, deep down, doesn’t particularly enjoy the seedier side of life, recognizing the consequences of his actions where Paul does not. For example he apologises to a girl the pair had scared during a robbery by putting a postcard through her door, pretending to be from the IRA and a case of mistaken identity. Misguided but actually amusing in the fashion it’s written.

Paul relishes the move to The Point where he meets another strong and defining character, Rachel O’Hare. When we first meet her, she’s exacting revenge in a rather painful manner on an imminently ex-boyfriend. Then we learn she’s receiving counseling for assaulting a fourteen year old boy who’d tried to rob her at knife point. This girl doesn’t mess around.

Unfortunately, Paul’s continued bad behavior attracts the attention of Mad Mickey’s men, forcing the trio to make a decision – stay and fight or run and start again. The resulting ending was masterful and quite a surprise.

An example of the no-nonsense prose, when the boys are out committing the burglary.

”So which one?” Brian asked.

“This one.” Paul stopped dead in his tracks and turned to his right. He walked up to the front door of number 45 and grabbed the knocker. Then he pummeled the door as if it had spilled his pint.

An excellent story cleverly told by a masterful writer.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Rating: Five Stars