Tuesday 31 December 2013

My Favourite Books of 2013.

It has been hard to narrow down my books of the year, as I have not read as many books this year as I would normally have done.  However, there are some books that stuck with me over the year.  They are as follows in no particular order.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Harper Collins) – In Depression Era Chicago, a drifter named Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times.  But it comes at a cost.  He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women who burn with potential.  He stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives, and starts hunting him back.  This is a novel that spans the history of Chicago from the 1930s to 1990s.  An unusual twist on the serial killer novel.

The Double by George Pelecanos (Orion).  In this second novel featuring Spero Lucas, a young Iraq vet working as a PI in Washington DC but with a sideline in finding lost items - the kind of items the owners can't go to the police about.  This time Spero is trying to find a painting belonging to a sexy young woman who was scammed out of it by a super-smooth con artist, part of a team of ruthless thugs.  Spero tracks the painting down but the woman is brutally attacked to warn him off.  Spero goes on the attack and takes the gang out one by one in their isolated house in the woods - prompting the question: have his experiences in Iraq turned him into an amoral killer no better than the crooks he's up against?  George Pelecanos always has the ability to write such fascinating and lyrical novels.  The Double is no exception.  Back to Spero Lucas who finds himself investigating the loss of a painting and his own dark side.  Augmented with a playlist that is as fascinating as the novel. 

Suspect by Robert Crais (Orion) LAPD cop Scott James is not doing so well.  Eight months ago, a shocking night time assault by unidentified men killed his partner Stephanie, nearly killed him, and left him enraged, ashamed, and ready to explode.  He is unfit for duty—until he meets his new partner.  Maggie is not doing so well, either.  A German shepherd who survived three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan sniffing explosives before losing her handler to an IED, her PTSD is as bad as Scott’s.  They are each other’s last chance.  Shunned and shunted to the side, they set out to investigate the one case that no one wants them to touch: the identity of the men who murdered Stephanie.  What they begin to find is nothing like what Scott has been told, and the journey will take them both through the darkest moments of their own personal hells.  Whether they will make it out again, no can say.  In Suspect, Robert Crais has presented readers with not only a multi-faceted and unusual new protagonist but also a gripping and heart-rending thriller.

The Twelfth Department by William Ryan (Mantle).  Set in Moscow during 1937.  Captain
Korolev, a police investigator, is enjoying a long-overdue visit from his young son Yuri when an eminent scientist is shot dead within sight of the Kremlin and Korolev is ordered to find the killer.  It soon emerges that the victim, a man who it appears would stop at nothing to fulfil his ambitions, was engaged in research of great interest to those at the very top ranks of Soviet power.  When another scientist is brutally murdered, and evidence of the professors’ dark experiments is hastily removed, Korolev begins to realise that, along with having a difficult case to solve, he’s caught in a dangerous battle between two warring factions of the NKVD.  And then his son Yuri goes missing . . . The Twelfth Department is a desperate race against time, set against a city gripped by Stalin’s Great Terror and teeming with spies, street children and thieves and is a great atmospheric historical thriller set in Stalin's Moscow

Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton (Atlantic) John Holderness, known to the women in his life as 'Wilderness', comes of age during World War II in Stepney, East London, breaking in to houses with his grandfather.  After the war, Wilderness is recruited as MI5's resident 'cat burglar' and finds himself in Berlin, involved with schemes in the booming black market that put both him and his relationships in danger.  In 1963 it is a most unusual and lucrative request that persuades Wilderness to return - to smuggle someone under the Berlin Wall and out of East Germany.  But this final scheme may prove to be one challenge too far...  Then We Take Berlin is a gripping, meticulously researched, and richly detailed historical thriller - a moving story of espionage and war, and people caught up in the most tumultuous events of the twenty-first century.  This is a new historical series by an author that needs to be read featuring an East-End Londoner turned spy at the start of the cold war.  Brilliantly written.

The Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (Orion).  Rebus is back on the force, albeit with a demotion and a chip on his shoulder.  A 30-year-old case is being reopened, and Rebus’s team from back then is suspected of foul play.  With Malcolm Fox as the investigating officer is the past and present about to collide in a shocking and murderous fashion?  And does Rebus have anything to hide?  His colleagues back then called themselves ‘The Saints’, and swore a bond on something called ‘the Shadow Bible’.  But times have changed and the crimes of the past may not stay hidden much longer, especially with a referendum on Scottish independence just around the corner.  Who are the saints and who the sinners?  And can the one ever become the other?  As in the best police thrillers there is a rich mixture of ingredients layered into a very satisfying meal.  Ian Rankin's decision to bring John Rebus out of retirement to rake over the past was the right one.

Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan (Simon & Schuster) Deep in the trenches of Flanders Fields, men are dying in their thousands every day.  So one more death shouldn't be a surprise.  But then a body turns up with bizarre injuries, and Sherlock Holmes' former sidekick Dr John Watson - unable to fight for his country due to injury but able to serve it through his medical expertise - finds his suspicions raised.  The face has a blue-ish tinge, the jaw is clamped shut in a terrible rictus, and the eyes are almost popping out of his head, as if the man had seen unimaginable horror.  Something is terribly wrong.  But this is just the beginning.  Soon more bodies appear, and Watson must discover who is the killer in the trenches.  Who can he trust?  Who is the enemy?  And can he find the perpetrator before he kills again?  Surrounded by unimaginable carnage, amidst a conflict that's ripping the world apart, Watson must for once step out of the shadows and into the limelight if he's to solve the mystery behind the inexplicable deaths.  Dead Man's Land is not only a very inventive murder plot that will be welcomed by all lovers of crime thrillers, but it is also a brilliant and powerful depiction of wartime horror from the point of view of Dr John Watson.  The first in what is hoped a new series.

How a Gunman Says Goodbye by Malcolm Mackay (Pan Macmillan).  How does a gunman retire?  Frank MacLeod was the best at what he does.  Thoughtful.  Efficient.  Ruthless.  But is he still the best?  A new job.  A target.  But something is about to go horribly wrong.  Someone is going to end up dead.  Most gunmen say goodbye to the world with a bang.  Frank’s still here.  He’s lasted longer than he should have ... The breath taking, devastating sequel to lauded debut The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, How a Gunman Says Goodbye plunges the reader back into the Glasgow underworld, where criminal organisations war for prominence and those caught up in events are tested at every turn.  This is a page-turner of a read that is brutal whilst being smoothly written.

London Falling by Paul Cornell (Tor) The dark is rising . . . Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career.  Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody.  Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton.  But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal.  Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one-step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.  Now, the team must find a 'suspect' who can bend space and time and alter memory itself.  And they will kill again.  As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities.  Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment, and tactics.  But they must all learn the rules of this new game - and quickly.  More than their lives will depend on it.  London Falling is pacy, clever and delights in London mythology.  An unusual but still unique novel.

In Screwed by Eoin Colfer (Headline) he adds and entirely new chapter to the adventures and misadventures of Daniel McEvoy, the down-on-his-luck Irish bouncer at a seedy New Jersey bar who, with the help of a motley crew of unlikely characters, solved a bizarre string of murders--including the one of the girl he loved.  But people around him continue to die mysteriously, and Daniel is called into action once again.  Colfer provides more back-story in this second novel and weaves in information about McEvoy’s alcoholic father and doomed mother and brother as well as McEvoy’s experiences in the Middle East.  Screwed is an equally gritty novel with a dark vein of humour that runs throughout the book.  This is shaping up to be a brilliantly wacky series that is awesomely good to read.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Matt Costello and Neil Richards on Cherringham - A Murder for Every Month of the Year

Cherringham is an original eBook series of 12 self-contained murder mysteries written in a transatlantic collaboration between Neil Richards and Matt Costello.   Murder on Thames is the first in an innovative Crime series  written in English but published by Bastei Entertainment –  an imprint of one of Germany’s leading publishers  Bastei Lübbe. Published in English first, to be followed by German in March 2014, the crime series features 12  self-contained episodes written by co-authors Neil Richards  (UK based) and Matthew Costello (US based).
In a revival of the Dickensian tradition, a new eBook episode will be published each month with the  second episode Mystery at the Manor to be published  in the UK on the 19th January  2014. Cherringham is a quiet and peaceful town in the Cotswolds. Time moves slowly here, and nothing out of the ordinary ever happens, until one morning a woman’s body is discovered in the river. Sarah Edwards has just returned to Cherringham with her two children following the breakdown of her marriage. Sarah had been friends with Sammi Jackson – the woman in the river – before they both moved to London and she’s certain there is more to her death than meets the eye. But juggling the school run and her job as a web designer doesn’t leave much time  to solve murder mysteries.  After the death of his wife, former NYPD homicide detective Jack Brennan has retired to Cherringham hoping for a quiet life. He soon realises “peace and quiet” isn’t really him and, despite his misgivings, he’s persuaded by Sarah to help her look  into Sammi’s death. It quickly becomes clear that the case isn’t as simple as the police hope. From her violent ex-boyfriend to her alcoholic father, it seems everyone has something to hide. Sarah and Jack will need to use all their wits to get to the bottom of this case.  Small towns hold many secrets, and the quiet and peaceful Cotswolds’ town of Cherringham is no exception! Short but deadly thrilling, Murder on Thames introduces us to the unlikely crime sleuth duo single mother and web designer Sarah Edwards and retired NYPD homicide detective Jack Brennan as they look into the death of one of Sarah’s old school friends.   Thrilling, deadly and anything butcosy’, Murder on Thames brings together the unlikely crime sleuth duo Sarah and Jack for the first in the ongoing Cherringham crime series.

Neil: Matt and I have been writing together since we met in England as Writers in Residence in 1997 on what was in those days called a Multi-Media lab. We had a lot of fun – and discovered we shared a common vision of storytelling. So – when the lab finished, we decided to come up with some TV ideas and pretty quickly picked up some commissions. Since then we’ve worked on TV shows as co-writers; we’ve built interactive projects; created the worlds and scripts for many computer games; and travelled the world mentoring and lecturing on workshops and labs for all media.

Matt: Part of engaging in any great and challenging work, is…who you are doing it with. Some projects can last for years, and there can be creative issues that can have you looking at the four walls, clueless. Who’s in that room with you is important.  But when ideas flow, when you laugh as you build story and worlds, that’s more than rare. So—we started working together, not knowing where that work would lead.

Neil: Matt’s got a terrific pedigree as a horror and sci-fi novelist in the States and although he has in the past co-written books we just never seemed to get round to working on a book together. Last year however we were funded by Screen Australia to write a YA novel to be the heart of a cross-media project. It worked – and we found that our working process, refined over many years in TV, could be adapted to writing books.

Matt: And guiding someone to write prose, to build a novel for the first time, is not easy. I know, I have tried in the past. But having worked across so many platforms, I felt that Neil would totally grasp the challenge (and fun) of creating compelling fiction. The first result, our epic fantasy novel for Screen Australia, was the creative ride of a lifetime. With more to come…

Neil: So… we started to play with some UK-US crime ideas, trying to link the two worlds which separately we know well: New York City and rural England. I’d been working with Bastei so I suggested to Matt that we pitch them our ideas. We pitched the world, characters and stories of Cherringham as we would a TV series and Bastei liked it. They were looking for monthly episodic novellas – and the kind of story shapes we were proposing fit the bill. The commission came quickly – we started writing. It’s a tough schedule – but coming from a TV background that’s nothing new to us.

Matt: And the best thing – besides road trips to the Cotswolds to plot and plan -- the series we would create, Cherringham, would take advantage of who we are -- UK/US -- with our ability to see the other’s take on the world, and channel that into our lead characters.

Neil: Key to everything we do is nailing the ‘world’ of the show/book. We like to go live in the area we’re writing about – in this case the Cotswolds – and work intensively with whiteboards, A3 sheets, filling notepads with ideas for stories and characters. I think we’ve now hired three cottages in different Cotswold villages for a week at a time.  Bursts of two to three hours are followed by capturing everything in note form then sharing tasks. We used to tape-record and then transcribe but we find now that between us we can grab the key material. We walk a lot – and that’s often where the best ideas come from. We sit in pubs and tea-rooms and watch people. Of course, if you’re talking murder you have to keep your voice down…

Matt:  See there is where I disagree with my esteemed colleague. I like when people in a tea house hear us talking about poison, stabbings and ways to make fires look accidental. Though I guess it can be disconcerting when patrons decide to move to a more distant table.  In truth, there is nothing like being in the place where your story will evolve, --walking, thinking, talking. It is perhaps why a collaboration done like that is both a great and a different kind of writing ‘experience’.

Neil: We spend a lot of time hammering out the story shape in note form and then use index cards so we can shuffle the story-beats around – which is pretty much the standard method that any TV writers will recognize. One of us hits the opening chapters – and then we just trade the chapters until the book’s done. I get his chapters, do an edit, then hit the next couple and send them back. He edits and carries on.  With the UK-US time difference this means that when we’re really flowing we can cover the ground extremely quickly!

Matt: We have indeed learned how to use the time difference between us. And when questions or glitches emerge, Skype stands at the ready. And then it’s almost like we’re strolling a Roman Road again, past cow pastures, discussing all the cozy mayhem we’re going to bring to Cherringham.

Neil: We’ve always been pretty good at finding a shared prose voice and the constant internal editing process helps smooth that too.  One area where we do differ is in the planning.  Matt prefers a flexible plan – and he likes to hit the pages fast and see where the story runs within a loose structure. I like to get the chapters and story-beats worked out beforehand so I know exactly where I’m going. We agree to disagree on that one and so far the combination has worked out fine.

Matt: The different approaches probably reflect our different writing backgrounds. I have been known to start a novel with one very cool idea, and not much else. As a solo writer, that works fine but how do you get a collaborator to share that ‘ride’? That’s where the more structured method of TV (and games for that matter) becomes very useful. Also, I think we have struck a balance of locking the story down but still letting the characters stand up, and suddenly take the tale in a direction we did not see coming at all.

Neil: We’ve really fallen in love with Cherringham and its characters. It’s based on a combination of three Cotswold villages (and no, there are no prizes on offer yet for guessing which) and we’ve drawn our own map down to street level so we don’t lose track of who lives where. So far – half way through the series – we’ve got around 60 characters (less the handful who have met a miserable end of course).

Matt: What—no prizes? As a game guy, I’d love to see who could figure out which three villages. But Neil is so right when he talks about loving the village. True, a lot of mayhem does occur there, but what lovely views! And – with quite a nice posh restaurant with an assortment of pubs for every taste.

Neil: I think the series works well as a cosy. The story engine of the village and the single-mum/ex-cop combination generates lots of stories – and the rules of the genre mean we can get away with quite a staggering murder rate.  

Matt: And as Sherlock well knew, a murder isn't always a murder (just as a hound isn’t always a hound.)

Neil: Meanwhile we both continue to write separately and as a team. Matt’s sci-fi novel Star Road is about to be published in the US. And last week the fifth in the Broken Sword game series was released – with script and story from me.  As well as the remainder of Cherringham series to write during the coming year, we have a YA novel which we want to pitch in February. We also have the second and third in the Australian YA series to write if the production company out there gets the go-ahead.
We also have a much darker crime story which we’ve begun to plot – again with a UK-US background. Cosy it ain’t…

Matt: And won't that be fun…after 1200 pages+ of coziness and corpses, to drill down into darker territory? I -- for one -- can hardly wait.

Co-authors Neil Richards (based in the UK) and Matthew Costello (based in the US), are known for their script work on major computer games. The Cherringham crime series is their first fictional transatlantic collaboration.  Matthew has written and designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean. He is also the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was made into a movie. Neil has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.

More information about Matt Costello can be found on his website - http://www.mattcostello.com/ 

Sunday 15 December 2013

Books to Look Forward to From Bloomsbury

The Ghost Runner is by Parker Bilal and is due to be published in February 2014. It is 2002 and as tanks roll into the West Bank and the reverberations of 9/11 echo across the globe, tensions are running high on Cairo's streets. Private Investigator Makana, in exile from his native Sudan and increasingly haunted by memories of the wife and daughter he lost, is shaken out of his grief when a routine surveillance job leads him to the horrific murder of a teenage girl. In a country where honour killings are commonplace and the authorities seem all too eager to turn a blind eye, Makana determines to track down the perpetrator. He finds unexpected assistance in the shape of Zahra, a woman who seems to share Makana's hunger for justice. Seeking answers in the dead girl's past he travels to Siwa, an oasis town on the edge of the great Sahara desert, where the law seems disturbingly far away and old grievances simmer just below the surface. As violence follows him through the twisting, sand-blown streets and an old enemy lurks in the shadows, Makana discovers that the truth can be as deadly and as changeable as the desert beneath his feet.

At the heart of Gibraltar lies the Rock. At the heart of the Rock lies darkness. The late-morning sun beats down on the Rock of Gibraltar as bored tourists photograph the Barbary Apes. A child’s scream pierces the silence as she sees a monkey cradling a macabre trophy. A man’s severed arm.  In the narrow streets of the Old Town below, lawyer Spike Sanguinetti’s friend and colleague is critically injured in a mysterious hit-and-run. Spike must drop everything and return home to Gibraltar, where he is drawn into a case defending a ruthless salvage company hunting for treasure in the Straits.  As Spike battles to save his business, he realises that his investigations have triggered a terrifying sequence of events, and that everything he holds dear is under threat.  Hollow Mountain is by Thomas Mogford and is due to be published in April 2014.

Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil is by James Runcie and is due to be published in May 2014.  It is the 1960s and Canon Sidney Chambers is enjoying his first year of married life with his German bride Hildegard. But life in Grantchester rarely stays quiet for long.  Our favourite clerical detective soon attempts to stop a serial killer who has a grievance against the clergy; investigates the disappearance of a famous painting after a distracting display of nudity by a French girl in an art gallery; uncovers the fact that an 'accidental' drowning on a film shoot may not have been so accidental after all; and discovers the reasons behind the theft of a baby from a hospital in the run-up to Christmas, 1963.  In the meantime, Sidney wrestles with the problem of evil, attempts to fulfil the demands of Dickens, his faithful Labrador, and contemplates, as always, the nature of love.

Friday 13 December 2013

Peter James Festive Competition

Sunday Times No 1 bestselling crime writer Peter James and his British publisher Pan Macmillan will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of James’ internationally bestselling Roy Grace series next year.  Seven of Peter’s Roy Grace novels have been Sunday Times No.1 bestsellers and the series is now translated into 36 languages.  His novels have sold over 14 million copies worldwide to date. 

Shots eZine were delighted to hear that Peter James has made a good recovery following his serious car crash as reported in The Independent –

James was racing his 1965 BMW, which he bought in January for £100,000, when he was clipped from behind by a Lotus Cortina as he took a fast downhill bend at 85mph.

“If you were a baddie and you wanted to spin a car round, you’d hit the back section just there by the rear wheel,” he told The Independent yesterday. “I always wondered what it would feel like. I saw grass, gravel, tarmac… Apparently I rolled four times.”

Read More Here

To celebrate a decade of Roy Grace in 2014 and his survival from the car crash - Peter James invited a number of critics, booksellers and journalists to his Christmas Luncheon in London. During lunch, Mike Stotter and Ali Karim organised 3 signed copies of his latest Roy Grace thriller – the No 1 Paperback Dead Man's Time for a Shots Competition.

Peter James commented ‘When I sat down in 1983 to write the first Roy Grace novel, Dead Simple, which was the first of a two book contract with Pan Macmillan, I thought that's all there would ever be.  I decided to set up the mystery of Roy's missing wife Sandy in the first and provide the answer in the second.  I find it hard to believe I've just finished the 10th in the series, and am about to start the 11th, and I have to pinch myself to really believe the enthusiasm from my fans around the world.  2014 promises to be the most exciting year of my career and my life, with so much happening in this 10th Anniversary year of Roy Grace.’

The first novel in the series, Dead Simple was published in 2005 and the tenth Roy Grace thriller will be published in June 2014. Among many literary awards, including the publicly voted ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards People’s Bestseller Dagger in 2011 and he was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize for Perfect People in 2012.  As popular internationally as in the UK, he won the US Barry Award [from Deadly Pleasures’ Magazine], for Best British Crime Novel for Dead Man’s Grip in the Autumn of 2012.

The theatrical premiere of the stage adaptation of his bestselling novella, The Perfect Murder embarks on a UK-wide tour of the country's leading theatres from January. Featuring the much-loved West End (Spamalot) and Celebrity Masterchef star Les Dennis alongside Waking the Dead and Casualty actress Claire Goose as the warring couple with murder on their minds, the all star cast also features Coronation Street's award winning Gary O'Brien, and Casualty's Steven Miller. In a twist for ardent fans of Peter's writing the stage adaptation also features a young Roy Grace working his very first case. 

So to celebrate a Grace-full decade, his publishers commented –

Wayne Brooks, Peter’s Editor at Pan Macmillan, says: ‘Peter James is at the peak of his writing career and Want You Dead, to be published in June 2014 is his most shocking and thrilling book to date. I couldn’t think of a better novel to celebrate ten years of Roy Grace with. We’re all gearing up for a very exciting 2014!’

Geoff Duffield, Pan Macmillan’s Creative Director, adds: “In the course of ten gripping and twisting crime-ridden years, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace has become one of the English-speaking world’s most loved fictional characters. In 2014 we are going to make Grace’s 10th anniversary a year of celebration and surprises for everyone who has read and enjoyed Peter James’ great detective. Happy Birthday, Roy Grace!”

Here’s Peter James talking about his latest –

All you have to do to win one of 3 signed copies - is to name the title of Peter James’ first novel featuring Roy Grace released in 2005 -

[a] Dead Calm
[b] Dead Simple
[d] The Walking Dead
[e] Dead Good

Send your answer in an email to shotscomp@yahoo.co.uk marking the subject line “PETER JAMES FESTIVE COMPETITION” and please include a postal address.

Closing date for entries is Sunday 26th January 2014

Terms and conditions for the Peter James Festive Competition

  • Closing date for entries is Sunday 26th January 2014 12:00:00 AM
  • All correct entries will be entered into a prize draw and the first correct answer picked at random on 26 / 1 / 2014 will be declared the winner of the book.
  • The winner will be notified by email within 14 days of the promotion closing date and is required to accept their prize by email or phone call within 14 days of notification.
  • In the event of non-acceptance within the specified period, the promoter reserves the right to reallocate the prize to the next randomly drawn correct and valid entry.
  • The winner will be notified within 28 days of the closing date. No responsibility can be accepted for lost or misplaced entries
  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative
  • Only one entry per person
  • Incorrect or illegible answers or entries received after the entry date will not be entered into the prize draw
  • The judges decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into
  • No geographical restrictions apply

Don’t worry if you don’t win one of the three signed copies of Peter’s latest as Shots Magazine’s online book store is offering DEAD MAN’S TIME on a special offer here with over 50% off the RRP.

Peter’s Roy Grace novels are making waves in America following his Barry Award win last year and the critical acclaim for his techno thriller PERFECT PEOPLE, so if you’ve not explored the dark side of Brighton, perhaps it’s time you did. 

The Roy Grace Series

Dead Simple [2005]
Not Dead Enough [2007]
Dead Man's Footsteps [2008]
Dead Tomorrow [2009]
Not Dead Yet [2012]

And next year’s thriller will be the 10th in the series tentatively titled “Want You Dead” [2014]

More information available from www.peterjames.com

 Photographs from the 2013 Peter James Christmas Luncheon at The Ivy, London 
(c) 2013 Ali Karim