Monday, 30 November 2015

South Downs Crime & Mystery

Not the SCROOGE you thought you knew...

Just in time for Christmas, available now to order at Amazon at a special price of just £1.99!
The Humbug Murders is the first title in the new Ebenezer Scrooge Mysteries series by New York Times bestselling author L.J. Oliver.
As the December nights grow long and cold in Victorian London, the Christmas geese are getting fat - as are the pockets of ambitious young moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge.
In his Cheapside counting house Ebenezer receives an early-morning visit from his old mentor, Reginald Fezziwig. Not that strange, except that Fezziwig claims to be dead. Murdered, in fact. And his ghost predicts other victims will follow - including Scrooge himself - unless Ebenezer finds the real culprit.
Aided by an unconventional female clerk named Adelaide Owen, the two mingle with some of the city’s most colorful characters - the Artful Dodger, Fagin, even a wily young reporter named Charles Dickens. But the truth is murkier than the Thames at twilight, and one misplaced word, one glance askew, and the ever-thrifty Scrooge and his fellow detective will be forced to pay the ultimate price...

Special Offer on the Mr and Mrs Darcy Series

For a limited time, you can enter the wonderful world of Mr and Mrs Darcy for only 99p!

Mr & Mrs Darcy, the joyous newlyweds from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, have not even left for their honeymoon when they find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving one of their wedding guests.

The lovely Caroline Bingley is engaged to marry a rich and charismatic American. Unfortunately, this windswept courtship is marred by many strange events - nocturnal wanderings, spooked horses, carriage accidents, and even an apparent suicide attempt. Soon the whole Bingley family seems the target of a mysterious plot, with only the Darcys recognising the danger.

Sinister forces are afoot and the Darcys must get to the bottom of this mystery before the blushing bride descends into madness - or worse.

And, if you fall in love with this charming series, the next two books in the series, Suspense and Sensibility and North by Northanger are only £1.99. Enjoy!

South Downs Crime & Mystery is a new independent publisher of cosy, historical and golden age mysteries. We believe crime doesn't always have to be bloody and that great characters, settings and plot are what make mysteries so satisfying.
Over the coming months we'll be announcing more wonderful titles and more offers. If you'd like to be kept up to date, please like the Facebook page.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

A Confession by Barbra Leslie

Today's guest blog is by debut author Barbra Leslie

I have a confession to make.

Until the late 2000s, the only mystery books I’d ever read were Agatha Christies.  (I loved cozy English books when I was a child, and if there was murder in the drawing room at the same time, well, so be it!)  Like any writer, I have always been a reader: from my grandmother’s discarded Harlequin Romances when I was a girl to the Victorians by the time I was a young teenager, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on.  I went from Norman Mailer to George Eliot, from T.S. Eliot to (God help me) Ayn Rand.  But somehow – maybe because there weren’t any in the house when I was growing up, and maybe because my very limited pocket money (earned from working at Zellers, a local budget department store, one of the two big stores in the rural Nova Scotia town in which I grew up) meant that when I was set loose in a bookstore, I wanted to choose books I had heard of, read about, knew were considered classics.  I was a fervent autodidact.

Yes, I realize how painfully snobbish that sounds, now.  Snobbish was the last thing I could ever have been considered, however, growing up as I did.  I was the last of six children, living in an apartment over my family’s small grocery store in a rural village.  But I thought mysteries were, like science fiction (another favourite genre of mine now), the equivalent of the Harlequin Romances I had long ago discarded – perhaps entertaining, but throw-away fiction, to be picked up at the three-for-a-dollar bin at charity shops.

Fast forward to late 2007, perhaps 2008.  My mother had fallen and broken her ankle and foot badly, and needed someone with her – she wasn’t strong enough for crutches and she was unable to walk.  I flew from Toronto, where I live, to Nova Scotia to be with her for a bit.  In the years since I’d last stayed with my mother for any period of time – in other words, since high school – she had discovered her own love for mysteries, and her bookshelves were crammed with books I’d never read before.  For a book junkie like me?  Heaven.

And, I was hooked.

While I have since read more varied and widely within the genre, the first mystery/crime writers I read as an adult were those my mother loved.

James Lee Burke: I wish I could remember which of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series I read first.  His writing is so lush, it’s like a hot, humid summer night in Louisiana – the setting for the series.  His hero is an Iberia Parish homicide detective/private detective/bait shop owner (the series spans many years), a Vietnam vet who struggles with sobriety and his often off-the-rails partner, Clete Purcell.   Dave’s moral code is what drives the series, his tortured goodness in the face of evil.  James Lee Burke was the first mystery writer I read, and was moved to tears while reading.  While I am loathe to pick a favourite of that series, I think The Tin Roof Blowdown, his post-Katrina Robicheaux, is one of the best American novels of that decade.  I haven’t yet read Burke’s Holland series – and as a book lover, is there any nicer feeling than having books from a favourite author to look forward to?

Dennis Lehane:  Dennis Lehane is an American treasure, and his Kenzie-Gennaro books probably had the most influence on me at the time, putting the bug in my ear to want to write my own crime fiction.  His style is more old-school noir than James Lee Burke’s almost Southern Gothic style.  The south Boston, urban P.I.-style books are deceptively simple, but they pick you up and don’t let you go.  The plots are tight, the violence feels absolutely real, and the supporting characters are as entertaining as the main ones – a great feat. 

Robert B Parker: My mother was a huge Robert B Parker fan - and I'm glad she got to see one of her favourite actors, Tom Selleck, play Parker's Jesse Stone in s series of TV movies.  (The fact that they were also filmed in Nova Scotia, where she lived, made it even more of a thrill for her.)  But her favourite series and mine- and most of Parker's readers, come to that - are the Spenser books.  Spenser, again, is like an old-school noir hero - the gentle tough guy who likes to crack wise.  He's smart, loyal and dogged, and doesn't suffer fools gladly; a Raymond Chandler character if ever there was one.  He was one writer who could make my mother laugh when she was reading; a memory of her that I treasure. 

My mother died in November 2010 of mesothelioma.  So while I have other favourites now – Nicola Griffith’s Aud series, Patricia Highsmith, Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, off the top of my head – it’s the early mysteries I read and talked about with my mother that I will always have the most fondness for.

Cracked by Barbra Leslie Titan Books £7.99 (Out now)

Danielle Cleary is a nice middle-class girl with a bad habit. After her stormy marriage to the love of her life ends, the former personal trainer and amateur fighter jumps down the rabbit hole into a world of crack cocaine -- delivered to her door by a polite but slightly deranged dealer – and endless game shows, with her best friend Gene. But when Danny’s twin sister Ginger is murdered, Danny and her rock musician brother fly to California to find their nephews – and the people who killed their sister. Fighting withdrawal, nosy cops and crazy drug dealers, she kicks ass and takes names, embracing her inner vigilante in a quest to avenge her sister and save her family.  Cracked is a darkly comic roller-coaster ride to redemption.  From the streets of Toronto to the underbelly of Orange County; from private jets to the depths of the Maine wilderness, Danny struggles with bad guys and her own demons to find the killers.

You can follow her on Twitter (@barbrajleslie

Friday, 27 November 2015

New Top Notch Thrillers from Ostara

The new titles from Ostara Publishing’s Top Notch Thriller imprint feature a bleak, almost Kafka-esque spy thriller set in London at the fag-end of the 1960’s and a poignant war story set on the Western Front in 1917, not so much in the trenches but under them.

Drawn Blanc, first published in 1970, was the debut novel of author, lecturer, screenwriter and artist Reg Gadney (who also painted the cover illustration). It starkly portrays the bleak world of the British Intelligence service trying to recover from the debacle of the Kim Philby years of betrayal. The new way of operating is to trust no-one at all and recruit small cells of agents on an ad hoc basis. One such recruit – a very reluctant volunteer – is Czech dissident O.B. Blanc who finds himself mounting a surveillance operation which rapidly turns violent and Blanc realises he could be the hunted rather than the hunter.

When first published, Drawn Blanc was praised by The Guardian for describing “territory bordering on Greene-land and Kafka country.”

In The Tunnellers, first published in 1986, Raymond Hitchcock (who served in the Royal Engineers during WWII until wounded on the Normandy beaches), tells the story of the young British Sappers who dug tunnels 90-feet below the German trenches on the Messines Ridge in Flanders in order to plant huge mines designed to blow an unsuspecting enemy sky high. Except the Germans are not unsuspecting…and are digging tunnels of their own.

Told through the eyes of two young Somerset lads transported from an idyllic rural life to the foul, damp darkness of trench warfare, Raymond Hitchcock’s tense and sensitive thriller pulls no punches when describing the brutality of the underground war conducted by the Sappers who know – with their casualties running at a thousand a month – they are expendable.
Top Notch Thrillers is the leading imprint for reviving and reissuing great British thrillers which do not deserve to be forgotten. Among its authors have been: Geoffrey Household, John Gardner, Duncan Kyle, Adam Hall and Brian Callison. The series editor is Mike Ripley.
Forthcoming titles in 2016: Smear Job and Bonfire Night – the last two ‘Callan’ novels by James Mitchell, plus Foiled Again and Cast Adrift – a brace of ‘Nick Madrid’ comic thrillers by Peter Guttridge.

For Further Information

Alex Blackmore on Hidden Truths

Today's guest blog post is by former city finance lawyer turned author Alex Blackmore.

I'm a big fan of plots that deliver a light bulb moment. When you read something and you think "no, that could never happen......or could it?"  I'm not a conspiracy nut but I think there's a lot we don't know about the world. For example, last year I interviewed the late Caspar Bowden who was Chief Privacy Adviser at Microsoft in 2011. He told his employer that selling cloud computing to non-American governments would effectively allow mass surveillance of those countries’ citizens’ data. Most dismissed him as a fantasist and a conspiracy theorist at the time. Then Snowdon happened and revealed PRISM i.e. everything Caspar said was spot on.

Hidden truths
My first book, Lethal Profit looked at this idea of hidden truths in the context of big business profiting from the sales of pharmaceuticals. In the book the organisation ACORN was manufacturing and distributing a virus for which only they had a cure. They were essentially living the corporate dream: creating a captive, desperate market and making themselves the sole supplier. I don't doubt that this happens in ‘the real world.’ I suspect that most of the time we have no idea of the extent to which corporates (and politicians being lobbied by them) don’t care about human lives and experiences, despite the fuzzy advertising campaigns.

Buying strategic control?
Ideas of profit motive run through Killing Eva too but this time based on the consequences of a completely free market. It seems to me that everything is effectively for sale now, from our book shops to our utilities companies, banks, food stores, some medical care and even - in a way - our government, given that we borrow so heavily. How easy would it be to hold these things ransom by innovatively/covertly buying up infrastructure and supply chains and then applying political pressure? We all assume that someone in the know must have put safeguards in place to stop a third party from ‘buying’ strategic control. But most of us have no idea.

The science bit – wreaking chaos
I have a bit of a taste for the sci fi too. It's odd as I'm not really a very sciency person but I love the potential it has to wreak chaos. In Lethal Profit it was a virus that could be 'held' in algae, injected into human bodies that would then self destruct (“not in existence but yes theoretically possible” said the man from Kings). In Killing Eva I'm looking at ideas of perception - how you could alter someone's perception by playing with their brain. It's not exactly advanced science I know but I couldn't stop think about how your perception of the world around is so very influenced by what's going on in your head not what’s actually there.

The protection of your DNA
I also thought a lot about the idea of security, something that’s so frequently in the headlines now. How could an individual ensure maximum protection for something priceless? We are so clever now, us humans, that we can break, replicate or hack just about everything – apart from DNA, that’s the only feature that remains individual to all humans. As far as we know.

The horror of suspense
I tend to steer clear of really gruesome torture and death scenes just because that doesn't have the same impact on me as something more psychological. I often think creating fear, terror, suspense is much more in what you don't say - planting those seeds of something awful and then just letting them grow in the reader's mind. Because we all love the suspense of a ruined house at midnight, an alpine village full of returning dead people or crime glimpsed from a passing train. As long as it's happening to someone else of course. Suspense is not something you can experience first hand.

Great shoes
At the centre of all this is my main character, Eva Scott, a young woman who knows nothing about science or the behind the scenes global political struggles, cartels or exploitation. She is drawn into the maelstrom when she starts receiving calls from her dead brother. Eva isn’t a policewoman or a spy so she’s very much on her own with what she discovers. However, she is a brave and instinctive character with a dogged determination that is totally relentless.  She also wears great shoes.

The trailer can be seen below.

Killing Eva by Alex Blackmore is published by No Exit Press, Paperback £7.99 and ebook

Witnessing a dramatic death at London's Waterloo Station triggers a series of events that shatter Eva Scott's world.  Dying words uttered on the station concourse awaken a history she had thought long buried.  But the past is about to be resurrected, in all its brutal reality.  Eva's life is soon out of her hands.  A genetic key is keeping her alive; but foreshadowing her death.  People from her past materialise and then disappear, testing the limits of her sanity. Inextricably linked to her survival is the potential takedown of an economic power, on which hang the lives of many others.  The only way out is through . . But Eva's life is no longer her own . .  And it's killing her.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

V M Giambanco on Riding shotgun with the Seattle Police Department

V M Giambanco is the author of the Alice Madison series of police procedurals.

It was a grey, chilly March morning and I was sitting in the reception area of the downtown precinct of the Seattle Police Department, waiting to meet the officers I would join on the day shift. I was wondering how many silly and inappropriate things I would manage to say in the eight-hour stint, and still I couldn’t have been more excited.

I had just spent a couple of hours chatting with the detective in charge of criminal investigations in Lynnwood near Seattle – thanks to a very kind family connection – and I was about to spend a day on a ride-along. If you are a crime fiction writer, life doesn’t get any better than that.

My novels are set in Seattle, Washington State, and the main character, Alice Madison, is a homicide detective; to have the chance to spend some time with real police officers and watch them do real work is pretty much gold.

Seattle is a mid-size town in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by water on one side and mountains on the other. It’s a great place to set a story because I can use the urban, cosmopolitan feel of the city and yet in half an hour I am in the middle of complete wilderness.

 That day in March I was lucky in many ways but maybe the biggest stroke of luck was that the officer who had drawn the short straw and would effectively be babysitting me for eight hours was a thirty-year veteran, a brilliant woman who had worked in the Vice and in the Domestic Violence units and who knew by name most of the homeless people in her precinct.

Downtown Seattle is not a residential neighbourhood: it has a busy harbour with ferries to Canada and British Colombia, a vibrant shopping area crammed with restaurants and caf├ęs, and it borders with an International District with Chinese businesses and warehouses; most importantly, it also houses at least five shelters for the homeless and most of those who use their services have mental health and addiction issues.

It was a busy day: in eight hours we were called on to deal with an assault, some shoplifting, a police officer in need of assistance, a homeless person relocation into a medical unit and a number of other matters in the local shelters, and, to top it all, some death threats. It was an endless stream and everything required written updates on the patrol car computer and through the radio. 

Mostly I tried to make myself entirely invisible as I stood by and watched. I was in fact completely invisible and no one looked at me twice because the minute the police officers arrived on the scene they were the ones in charge and people turned to them for support and direction. The officer I was with asked me to stay in the car only once and that was because the person they were pursuing was a man known to be aggressive and even though I had signed all kinds of waivers she wanted to bring me back to the precinct in the same condition as I had left it at the beginning of the day. I remained in the car and watched them as they went after their man in the alleys behind Pioneer Square. They did not find him.

The Seattle Police Department had received some bad press in the previous months and I had been quite surprised when they had agreed to let me ride with them and even more so when they openly talked about the department’s problems. I asked each officer the same question: if there was one thing you could tell the public about what it’s like to be a police officer what would you say? Mostly they had the same answer: there are always two sides to a story and not everything is what it seems. I agree, the group of people I saw working on the street – in patrol cars, on bicycles and on horses – were dedicated, capable and compassionate; they were generous with their time and talked to me about how they became officers; they showed me the best place to grab lunch on the run (the Grand Central Bakery on 1st Avenue South) and even taught me the ultimate trick to remember the sequence of key streets in the Downtown precinct grid (Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, and Pine)…the mnemonic is ‘Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest’. Brilliant.

What I remember from the day is feeling in my bones that the reality of police work is both incredibly mundane and easily misunderstood unless you’re right next to them, on the street. I will go back for more the next time I’m in Seattle. The reality is as compelling and as mysterious as the fiction.

Blood and Bone by V M Giambanco is out now (Quercus Books Hbk £18.99 Kindle £9.49)

After two years in the Seattle Police Department Homicide Unit Detective Alice Madison seems to have found the kind of peace in her private and working life that she has not known before.  When a burglary escalates into a horrific murder she is put in charge of the investigation and finds herself tracking a killer who might have stalked the city for years and whose existence is the stuff of myth in high security prisons.  Alice Madison and her partner Detective Sergeant Kevin Brown will have to re-open old cases and old wounds because mistakes were made and Brown might be responsible for letting a killer go free.  The bond between the detectives is tested to its limits as they navigate the case and learn more about the consequences of Brown’s error.  Madison’s own past comes under scrutiny when Internal Affairs officers begin to investigate her and she realises that enemies close to home want her to fail. In the middle of the storm Madison and her partner must hunt down a skillful, determined murderer with a talent for death. And Madison’s private life and fragile peace fall apart.

Read an extract here.
Purchase from Amazon

You can follow her on Twitter @vm_giambanco