Saturday 30 January 2016

The Return of DS Aector McAvoy

It’s been a busy week for the London based book reviewers, journalists and critics that trawl the darkest edges of literature, namely crime mystery and thriller fiction; as publishers are preparing their 2016 work for market. Last week we attended the Hodder & Stoughton, Headline and Quercus Publishing Party, held alongside the Embankment of London’s Thames. All three publishers form a significant segment of the Hachette Publishing group, and fitting within the Hodder & Stoughton imprint is the UK division of Mulholland Books, which showcases some of the more unusual offerings, such as David Morrell’s award-winning historical series featuring Thomas De Quincey and the DS McAvoy series from Hull based journalist David Mark, to name just two of their authors.

Just out from Mulholland is Mark’s fifth novel DEAD PRETTY, and what a dark ride it is indeed, as our reviewer discovered. So it was a delight to attend the launch party that Hodder and Stoughton had organised in-conjunction with London’s Goldsboro Books, in Covent Garden. The Hodder Team were out in force with Nick Sayers, Kerry Hood and David’s editor Ruth Tross.

The wine flowed like water, as did the conversation. It was great to bump into colleagues in the reviewing world such as Mike Carlson, Jon Coates, Jake Kerridge, as well as Bloggers such as Milo Rambles, and “Steph” aka the mysterious crime thriller girl. It was also great fun to bump into various writers who had come to support David, such as Mari Hannah, who writes the Kate Daniels series. It was a few years ago at a Crimefest Convention in Bristol where Mari and I found ourselves seated together for the Gala Dinner with her publishers Pan Macmillan. I took the opportunity to congratulate her on publishing her first standalone The Silent Room, and the acclaim it had gathered was extraordinary. Barry Forshaw commented in The Independent –

There are two kinds of crime writer. There are the high-profile, starry figures, routinely called upon to be pundits for the genre – and whose prestige allows them to get away (almost scot-free) with the odd misfiring book. And then there are the others: the quiet, hard-working professionals who simply get on with the job, delivering reliable, readable fiction that may not have any truck with innovation or experiment, but delivers the kind of reader-pleasing product (misfires discouraged) that ensures their contracts are renewed regularly. Mari Hannah is in the latter group, and over a solid series of books has built up a faithful following.

With her pithily drawn Northumbrian settings, Hannah has produced a compellingly readable series featuring gay copper DCI Kate Daniels, which has maintained a satisfyingly dark and tense atmosphere, the pungent characterisation matched by persuasive detail of forensic and policing methods.

Read More Here

I was also delighted to have a chat with writers Susi S J Hollliday and Alexandra A K Benedict. Susi and I had been in communication prior to Bouchercon Raleigh on the panel planning, and the curious thing was during the event in North Carolina, due to my frantic programming tasks, I actually hadn’t seen her at the event, but then again attendance was over 1,400 people, and I was never in one place for more than a minute or two, as I wondered around checking panels, sorting last minute problems, and basically ensuring the event ran as smoothly as our team could manage. 

I was looking forward to Alexandra Benedict’s follow-up to her debut novel The Beauty of Murder – which was titled Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts due for release in February from Orion Publishing, as her work is in a favourite subgenre / hybrid of mine, one that merges crime and mystery with horror and the weird.

Anyway, with much mingling, and Kerry Hood ensuring our glasses of wine were kept topped up; Ruth Tross, took to the front to introduce David Mark and his new work, DEAD PRETTY followed by David himself giving his usual self-deprecating welcome to all the guests who came to celebrate his latest DS McAvoy thriller. His speech was very amusing, in fact I have noticed that the writers that write the toughest narratives tend to be the nicest of people, and David is no exception.

David is gaining traction in the US and I was delighted to hear that he and his wife Nicola are planning attending Bouchercon “Blood on the Bayou” in New Orleans later this year. This will be David and Nicola’s first Bouchercon so they were keen to listen to the experiences of Mike Stotter and I, and we were delighted to hear that Ruth Tross of Hodder / Mulholland was also going to attend, so the British Contingent was taking shape. The event is being chaired by the best-selling author and musician Heather Graham, so click here for a free eBook on why Heather loves New Orleans.

More Information on the work of David Mark is available Here from Crimefiles and Here from Shots, while the Shots review is available Here and we have discounted copies available from the Shots Bookstore Here and if you are planning to attend Bouchercon this year in New Orleans, here’s the link

So after the party, we thanked David Headley of Goldsboro Books, and the team from Hodder and Stoughton / Mulholland Books for their hospitality, and headed for some dinner, where Mike and I discussed plans for our trip to New Orleans, as well as priorities on reviewing and upcoming Shots features. We were both very encouraged at the exclusive telephone call with David McCallum which though concise [due to his busy schedule] revealed details on his engaging debut crime novel, “Once a Crooked Man”.

As we left the restaurant, by sheer serendipity, we noticed Ruth Tross, David Mark and Nicola East with some others standing outside a bar and of course David’s booming laughter – so we joined them for a night cap, and toasted the success of Journalist David Mark, turned best-selling crime-writer, a man with a pitch-black imagination, but with a sense of humour and wit that makes his work, dare I say unique.

If you haven’t discovered the world of DS McAvoy, then you are in for a treat, but be warned these are very gritty and tough detective novels, but are striated with a knowing eye, and with a social conscience.

This link explains more, because Detective McAvoy takes his readers to Hull and Back……

Friday 29 January 2016

The Hammett Prize

The North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers announced the nominees for their annual HAMMETT PRIZE for a work of literary excellence in the field of crime writing by a US or Canadian author.

The Stranger, by Harlan Coben (Dutton)
Sorrow Lake: A March and Walker Crime Novel, by Michael J. McCann (Plaid Raccoon Press)
The Whites: A Novel, by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt (Henry Holt)
The Do-Right, by Lisa Sandlin (Cinco Puntos Press)
The Organ Broker: A Novel, by Stu Strumwasser (Arcade)

A reading committee of IACW/NA members selected the nominees, based on recommendations from other members and the publishing community. The organization will name the HAMMETT PRIZE winner, during the NoirCon literary conference in Philadelphia, October 26-30, 2016. The winner will receive a bronze trophy, designed by sculptor Peter Boiger.

H/T Mystery Fanfare.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Open Channel D : David McCallum talks to Shots Ezine

It was quite the coup when we heard last year that Sandstone Press in Britain had gained rights to publish David McCallum’s debut crime novel Once a Crooked Man. I asked the publishers to please let me have an early read, as I had been a fan of Scotsman David McCallum since his early days acting in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and then followed his varied career, though younger people perhaps know of him more affectionately as NCIS medical examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" MallardNCIS
, rather than Illya Nickovitch Kuryakin.

So Sandstone Press were as good as their word, and I tore through this good natured international caper narrative in two sittings, for it has the pace of sprint, with a quirky style that made me smile when I put the book down.

I wrote at the time –

The narrative is striated with a dry wit that helps the reader overlook some of the more surreal events that follow Murphy’s miss-adventures. Reminiscent of Buchan’s The Thirty-nine Steps, or Hitchcock’s North-By-Northwest or one of Westlake’s Dortmunder novels, the pace is relentless, but with a knowing style, and one that is as engaging as it is furious. Naturally there is romance against this gonzo-chase backdrop, and soon Murphy finds the direction he was looking for, as all heads turn as the hunt goes by, including Lizzie Carswell, a special agent, but who is she really working for?

The writing style makes one query why McCallum hadn’t penned a crime novel before, for like The Man from U.N.C.L.E character Ilya Kuryakin, he is as resourceful as a writer, as he is an actor. I feel that it won’t be long before another crime thriller will be forthcoming, highly recommended and very different, where the genre is filled with tales of Noir, we have this light and highly energetic tale, that makes one smile while we turn the pages with impatience, as well as ruminating about the significance of coincidence in our lives.

Read the full review from Shots here and it seems we’re not the only critics to have their head turned by this debut.

So despite David’s very busy schedule traversing the Atlantic, he found time to ‘Open Channel D’ and discuss a little on how his new foray into crime writing came about.

Ali : Welcome to Shots Ezine David, so let’s ask the most obvious question first; how did you find yourself writing a crime novel, Once a Crooked Man?

David: I sat down with the intention teaching myself to write over 15 years ago. The ensuing manuscript went in and out of drawers until about four years ago when I took it out and decided that what I had written deserved to be finished.  Once a Crooked Man is the surprising result.

Ali : And so were you a reader in your youth? And what about your reading in the Crime, Mystery and Thriller genre?

David: When I was growing up there was an extensive library in our living room and I read all the books I could lay my hands on. These included many detective novels. And of course the Strand magazine with the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Ali : Was Once a Crooked Man your first approach to creative writing, as it seems such an assured debut?

David : It seems that over the years I subconsciously developed a personal style of writing. This is quite a surprise to me and I only hope that in attempting to write a second book I can rediscover this again.

Ali : When you sat down to write, did you have the plot buttoned-downed, or did you follow a less rigid path, with perhaps just an outline?

David: The entire exercise started with the idea an actor being handed a suitcase with $1 million in it. All of the other characters created and developed themselves over the years and I never had a complete plot in mind. It simply evolved.

Ali : I couldn’t but help myself picture David McCallum as your main protagonist Harry Murphy, as the old adage ‘write what you know’ often hints at; however the book does contain investigators, criminal families, romance and security issues, so did the novel require much research?

David: Yes. I worked with DEA and with the State’s Attorney in upstate NY. In fact, I did more research than was necessary, but it was very enjoyable. 

Ali : Once a Crooked Man, is good natured fun, which is the veneer that covers a dark tale, so how careful were you with humour within a crime novel?

David: I never consciously attempted any humour. It appeared all by itself.

Ali : So what’s next in store for David McCallum? More US TV? NCIS? and is there any credence to the rumors of a Sapphire and Steel feature film, but more crucially, are we likely to see you return to the crime novel?

David: The publishers have asked me to write a second book. There is no credence to a Sapphire and Steel film. I am in negotiations for another year of NCIS.

Ali : So any hints for those considering penning a debut crime thriller?

David: The moral of the story is if you want to write a book all you have to do is put your butt on a seat and get on with it. That’s all I did!

Ali : Thank you for your time, and we are eagerly awaiting a new work from David McCallum

David : Pleasure’s all mine, glad you liked Once a Crooked Man

Shots Ezine would like to thank Ruth Killick and Sandstone Press for arranging this interview; and for Shots readers, remember we have discounted copies available from the Shots Bookstore here, and for the curious, you can download the opening chapter from David’s American Publishers, St Martin’s Press here

If you like caper driven narratives, and enjoy a quirky crime / mystery novel; we would recommend Once a Crooked Man, highly, and are looking forward to a follow-up. 

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Tackling myths … Ragnar Jónasson

One of the reasons I wrote Nightblind was to tackle two myths about Iceland. The first is that Icelanders are a nation with no guns. This is a very prevalent myth, largely because Iceland is a very peaceful place, usually ranking at the top or near the top of lists of the most peaceful countries on earth. Furthermore, the Icelandic police are quite famous for being unarmed, although this is no longer the case. Some police cars are now equipped with handguns, a sign of changing times perhaps.  But the truth is that Icelanders have a lot of guns – although they are mainly hunting weapons, of course. There have been reports of 60,000 registered firearms in Iceland, which means that one in five Icelanders has a gun, and Iceland has been ranked No. 15 in the world, in terms of gun ownership per capita. This subject is tackled in Nightblind when the local police inspector is shot at point blank range with a shotgun – a hunting gun presumably stolen from a local teacher who kept it in an unlocked garage. As the investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that there are far more weapons on the streets than previously imagined, even in a small place like Siglufjordur!

The second myth is that Iceland is a country with no violence. Again, this has something to do with the ‘peaceful-country’ ranking (and Iceland is very peaceful) and the fact that we have very few murders (far fewer than you would think, reading Icelandic crime novels). However, I wanted to draw attention to the hidden violence that exists in all countries: domestic violence. And Iceland is no exception. It can be said that the horror of domestic violence is a main thread throughout the book, but I think I won’t elaborate further on that – I’ll let the readers of Nightblind discover more for themselves … Domestic violence usually take place behind closed doors and, like it is in many countries, is often under-reported. Who knows what’s going on behind those doors, as the long, dark winters draw in? Any country can appear peaceful on the surface, but most have a simmering rage that leads to violence at home. It’s worrying, and it’s a trend that it is increasing worldwide.

I once had the opportunity to interview the great P.D. James for an Icelandic newspaper, and she told me that the traditions and structure of a detective story could be used to say something about men and women under the stress of a police investigation, and the society in which they live. I tend to agree with that, so my novels usually, directly or indirectly, address a topic that I find interesting or important. Of course I also try not to lose sight of the fact that I am writing a crime novel with a focus on characters, setting, plot and a twist in the end … And it is surely in the most compelling stories that the truth can be told, the myths shattered, and issues brought to the surface, as readers absorb information through entertainment. It’s a powerful vehicle for change, and that’s one of the reasons why I love writing crime fiction.

Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates) is out now. (Orenda Books, £8.99)

Siglufjör› ur: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.  Ari Thór Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him. The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman – shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will. Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all.

More information about Ragnar Jónasson and his writing can be found on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter @ragnarjo