Friday, 27 November 2015

The Shore by Sara Taylor

When this book first came out, my initial attraction to it was the beautiful cover. It’s collection of seashells seemingly quite pretty and innocent at first until you notice the bloody tooth lurking in the bottom corner which makes it suddenly even more intriguing, although I never did get round to reading it then. You shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover but in this case, the cover speaks volumes of how brilliant the story that lies within really is. 

The Shore is a collection of small islands of the Virginia coast line that has been home to generations of brave and resilient women and their families for generations. This novel is comprised of interconnecting short stories that link the generations of two families that live on the island and their stories will shock and captivate you from first to last. 

Each story is basically a chapter. The first story tells of a young girl who does her best to protect her younger sister after their mother has left and their dead-beat dad leaves them to pretty much fend for themselves. It’s not a particularly long story but the ending packs a punch and really sets the tone for the continuing tales. 

Family and relationships is a strong theme throughout the book, especially parental and children bonds, and sibling ties too. Most of the focus is on the women of the island, some of whom endure all sorts such as domestic violence, drug use and bereavement, which really gives an insight into that character and how they deal with the situation they are in. 

There are characters to love and characters to hate and all the shades in between. I loved how the familial linkage between characters runs throughout the stories and really enjoyed reading how the past affects the future. 

As well as covering a wide base of themes, the book also covers a broad spectrum of time, with stories starting in the 1800s and going right into the far future that none of us living today will ever see. The future world that Sara Taylor portrays is a bit scary and unnerving but I loved the creativity that it showed. 

Being set in one location, you get a strong sense of the place and by the end, I felt like I had been a former resident of The Shore myself, and that some of the characters who you learn so much about could have been people I know. 

Usually with short stories, I can pick an out and out favourite but with this book, with them being so closely linked and each one unique, I was thoroughly engrossed with every one and couldn’t choose one over the other as the best. 

Addictive, breath-taking and so intelligently written, The Shore is a worthy addition to the Young Writer Award 2015 shortlist and I think this may even be one of my favourite books of the year. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson

Set in 1946 Berlin, the war has left the local population struggling to survive. With curfews and the military still in place and everything in short supply, many turn to the black market to buy and sell precious commodities. 

Kasper Meier is a regular trader on the black market. He can find anything anyone needs as long as it is for the right price. A young woman named Eva arrives at his home out of the blue one day asking him to help her find a British pilot. 

Lacking in sympathy and reluctant to interfere with the military, he tries to decline. But Eva has come prepared; she knows his secrets and uses them against him and so he has no choice but to get involved. 

He soon learns that Eva is only a small part of the puzzle, and Kasper is soon embroiled in an intricate web of secrets, lies and betrayal that become far more dangerous than he could ever have imagined for him, his elderly father and the young woman he is fast becoming fond of. 

This is my second review of a Young Writer of the Year Award 2015 shortlisted book and I can see why The Spring of Kasper Meier has made the cut. I’m a big fan of historical fiction anyway but for me the most striking thing about this novel is how brilliantly the author recreates the desolate setting of post-war Berlin. With images of crumbling, ruined buildings, underground bars and rubble filled streets; it fully immerses the reader in that time and place and is an excellent backdrop for the storyline that takes place. I enjoyed the theme of trading on the black market, and the fact that information is at times even more valuable than food and goods; which Kasper finds out the hard way. 

Kasper himself is surly and sometimes cold, but as the story unfolds, you uncover so much about his past and you can’t really help but feel for him at times. I especially liked the relationship that develops with Eva despite all the secrets between them. 

So with an evocative setting and well drawn characters, there is also a thrilling mystery running through the heart of the story that will keep you gripped right up until the end. I was completely absorbed into this novel and I think other historical fiction and thriller readers will be too. After this I’m eager to see future novels by Ben Fergusson. 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe

After recently posting about the Sunday Times / Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award 2015, I was eager to sample the books for myself. Over the coming few posts, I’ll be reading and reviewing the four books that make up the shortlist of this year’s award. 

I thought I’d start off with Sarah Howe’s poetry collection Loop of Jade. I’m not much of a poetry reader and I had my reserves about the book, but I like trying new things and of course wouldn’t let that put me off! 

Born in Hong Kong to an English father and a Chinese mother, Sarah Howe explores her dual heritage in this collection. I myself am of dual heritage so that theme was of interest to me from the start. 

Each poem is unique and original and charts a journey to Hong Kong in the discovery of her roots. Part of that discovery is in the telling of old Chinese tales with a certain element of mythology mixed in, which was probably my favourite aspect of the poems. 

I don’t think  I understood everything I read completely; whether that’s because it’s personal to the author or the fact that I don’t read much poetry, I’m not sure. I’ve read a couple of descriptions of the book and other reviewers seem to have taken away so much from this collection, which I didn’t seem to see. What I did take away was a sense of place and inheritance with a real artistic streak running through. 

The poems are colourful and wonderfully descriptive, and some of the wording is truly beautiful. I really appreciated the blend of cultures which is delightfully expressed throughout. The eloquence of the language really set the tone of the book and suited the poetry form. I also found the language and the stories that were told were quite calming to read which was another thing that I enjoyed about this book. 

Hailed as an unmistakable new voice of British poetry, I don’t think I’m too well placed to give definitive commentary as I just don’t have much knowledge or experience with poetry. But I can say that overall this is a collection that I thought was elegant, insightful and I did enjoy reading it. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

For a debut, this is a pretty epic offering from new author Tom Toner and its quite daunting to write a review to try and explain a book like this... but I’ll give it my best shot! 

In a far off future, mankind has spread across the galaxy and has diversified into a number of new forms. There are a whole new range of people and creatures in the universe, a select few of those are even immortal. With complex hierarchies across species and planets, there are rumours of a bid to overthrow the current emperor and a series of events are set in motion that will have rippling effects across the entire galaxy. 

Now I’ll be honest here, it took me a lot of concentration to keep up with everything that happens in the story; all the characters and their attributes, history and goals, and also different times and locations across not only Earth but whole new planetary systems!

I do find that when you are introduced to a whole new world with its own language and landscape, it can take a while as a reader to completely get the hang of things. For me personally, there was sometimes too much information to take on board so I did find some parts a little confusing, but the world building in this novel is off the charts in terms of detail, originality and imagination. 

Tom Toner is a Fine Arts graduate and that clear passion for art shines through in some gorgeously written prose which is wonderfully descriptive and bursting with colour; an aspect of the story I very much enjoyed and appreciated as an aid to imagine such an elaborate universe. Another element that I liked about the story was that with some many battles for immortality and power ensuing, lots of characters are keeping secrets. Those betrayals and secrets added a lot of excitement to the tale and I'm sure there will be more things to be uncovered later on!

This is a big book filled with many interlinking stories. You find out snippets about the history of humanity when they left Earth but there are also so many questions and gaps in knowledge of what really happened to make mankind leave that I can’t wait to learn more about in future books. 

My favourite character from the novel is a beautiful being named Lycaste who is kind of socially awkward, despite possessing such fame from his looks, and he is forced into circumstances which really push the character out of his comfort zone. You learn a lot about him throughout the book and I hope there is more to come from him in the future as I find him quite intriguing! 

With echoes of David Mitchell, this book is an epic feat of sci-fi storytelling, especially for a first novel. A complex space opera with fantasy elements filled with drama and adventure; this is an ambitious book that is sure to impress sci-fi readers that are willing to commit the time and concentration to really appreciate the story that is unfolding. 

I think that this is the kind of story that would be great with accompanying map illustrations and character cast lists so you have a point of reference throughout the story (and also because I’m a sucker for a pretty book map!) This is an extraordinary start to what I predict will be a successful series and Tom Toner is definitely a talented writer to watch out for. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Sunday Times / Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award 2015

The Young Writer of the Year Award back! Established in 1990, it has showcased some of the finest literary names in the UK; previous winners include Zadie Smith, Adam Foulds and one of this year’s judges, Sarah Waters. 

After a six year break, the award has been relaunched this year by the Sunday Times and literary agents Peters Fraser & Dunlop to recognise the best literary work of fiction, non-fiction and poetry by British or Irish writer aged 35 and under. A grand prize of £5000 is up for grabs for the overall winner, with the three runners up receiving £500 each. The shortlist was recently announced and covers a broad variety of genres. 

Ben Fergusson makes the shortlist with his acclaimed historical fiction debut The Spring of Kasper Meier (published by Little, Brown) set in post-Third Reich Berlin. 

Sarah Howe’s first book of poems Loop of Jade (published by Chatto & Windus) is an exploration of heritage and identity as she uncovers her Hong Kong roots. 

One of Granta’s Best of British Novelists 2013, Sunjeev Sahota is the author of The Year of the Runaways (published by Picador) a story set between England and India about dignity in the face of adversity. 

Last but not least is Sara Taylor with her Baileys prize nominated collection of interlinked short stories The Shore (published by William Heineman)

The judging panel this year are novelist and winner in 2000 Sarah Waters, Sunday Times Literary Editor Andrew Holgate and Chief Fiction Reviewer Peter Kemp. 


“This is a wonderful line-up of books from four extremely talented writers. I think what’s particularly thrilling is the range of work on display here, as well as its quality. Each of these books confronts the complexities of life, but each has its own distinct style, its own energy. Collectively, they offer a very exciting snapshot of the literary scene.” - Sarah Waters


At time of writing, I’ve not had the pleasure of any of these books but they all sound fantastic in their own right and they’ve all been added to my reading list. I’ve heard great things about all of these books and so it sounds like it’s going to be a tough choice for the judges. 

The winner will be announced in December 2015. Who would you choose as Young Writer of the Year 2015?

*Now I have read all the books (review links above) I do not envy the judges their choices. All these books are brilliant in their own special way and it has been such a pleasure reading them all. If a gun was to my head then I would have to say that The Shore was my favourite of the four although all would be worthy winners. Am looking foward to the winner's announcement!*

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Little Girl Gone by Alexandra Burt

Some of the most popular crime thriller novels of recent times seem to be so compelling due to an unreliable narrator taking the lead. In novels such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, we are introduced to a main character, who in the telling of their own story, still leaves room for doubt as to the truthfulness of their account. That kind of premise is what drew me to this book, along with critical acclaim from other reviewers. 

Estelle Paradise is struggling with motherhood. Her husband Jack is always busy with work and her baby daughter Mia never stops crying. Alone in a new home Estelle is pushed to breaking point and then the unthinkable happens. Baby Mia disappears. 

Estelle does not report the disappearance and is found days later in a car accident with no memory of recent events. Terrified of her own dark thoughts and judged by the police and the media, Estelle embarks on a psychological battle with herself to try and recall what happened to her missing child. 

This book really goes to some dark places in a taut exploration of marriage and motherhood. Her marriage to Jack seems rushed and from the start I didn’t really think they fitted as a couple. Mia swiftly arrives and then her subsequent disappearance puts even more strain on Jack and Estelle’s relationship. 

Estelle’s struggle with motherhood is deeply explored. I think there can be a public assumption that motherhood is something that comes naturally to all women but of course the experience is not so straight forward for some and Estelle struggles to cope. It doesn’t help that Jack is always away and she doesn’t seem to have much control over anything in her life. 

She is not a character I warmed to necessarily but I really felt for her during such an obviously emotional and stressful ordeal. From the beginning, Estelle’s thoughts and feelings are laid out in their entirety. The reader is literally a passenger inside her head as memories and thought processes play out in her mind. Some parts were a little too drawn out for me personally, but I think that just shows how detailed the prose is in constructing Estelle’s story. 

The last half of the book was especially gripping, the twists becoming corkscrews, and you start second guessing everything you think you know about what happened to baby Mia. Alexandra Burt uses striking metaphors and a disconcerting narrative voice to create an unsettling story that draws you in and keeps hold. Little Girl Gone is a tense tale that will keep you guessing right up to the end. 

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Dust and Desire by Conrad Williams

I’m ending #BBCrimeWeek with the first book in a new gritty crime series from Titan Books, written by multi-award winning author Conrad Williams. Dust and Desire introduces us to troubled private investigator Joel Sorrell. 

A former police officer, Joel is haunted by the cruel murder of his wife and the disappearance of his teenage daughter. With that in mind, he can’t resist missing person cases and when an enigmatic young woman seeks him out to find her missing brother, of course he can’t say no. 

Despite not having much information to go on, Joel agrees but then someone tries to kill him and the woman herself goes missing. This all occurs in conjunction with a vicious serial killer on the loose and Joel finds that the answers to the terrible problems he is faced with may be linked to his darker past. 

I often prefer the PI stories to ones where an official police detective is the lead character, because even without official authority, PIs seem to work by their own rules (if not always strictly legit or even legal) which makes the story much more interesting. Wise cracking, no nonsense Joel is a perfect example of a distressed man who has his own maverick methods of operation when it comes to cases which may be a little messy but seems to work for him. 

There is a very dark yet brilliant sense of humour in his narration and this book is totally worth the read for his sharp witted one-liners alone. We mostly learn about Joel Sorrell from the man himself but there is an interlude from the serial killer and his life which adds an even more sinister undertone to the prose. 

The story is not for the faint hearted. The crimes are horrific, the murders are brutal and the violence is graphic – and if you like that kind of thing, you’ll definitely be hooked. With little forays into Liverpool, the story is mostly set in London as Joel traipses all over the capital following leads. Settings are well described and I think Londoners will especially enjoy this tale for that reason. 

Joel is one of those characters where trouble just seems to find him and cling on for dear life, and as this is only the start of his series, I really am looking forward to see what the future brings for the battered and bruised investigator. Razor sharp and insanely compelling, Dust and Desire is an explosive novel that crime fiction readers will love. 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Top 5 Crime Detective Partnerships by Mother Butterfly

One guest post wasn't enough for crime fiction fan Mother Butterfly and so in addition to her Top 5 Crime Detectives post at the start of #BBCrimeWeek, she's compiled a list of her favourite crime fighting duos in literature!

1)  Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson – author Arthur Conan Doyle.  The Sherlock Holmes books are interesting as they are not novels but collections of short stories.  Even so the author manages to get all the amazing brainpower of Holmes and the excitement of each story in each story.  You almost forget that is isn’t a full length novel.  Holmes and Watson must be the most famous detective pair in literary history and most of us will have seen some version of one of the stories on TV.  The books are well worth a visit though.


2) Peter Grant and Valentine – author Ben Aaronovitch.  I really enjoy reading these books.  They have only been around for a few years but have gained quite a following.  Peter Grant is an ordinary policeman who inadvertently gets involved in a supernatural case and comes to the notice of Valentine and his superiors who have a covert supernatural division based at “The Folly”.  If you have never read one of these books, you are in for a treat.  They are funny, exciting and if you are into the supernatural, these have lots of interesting creatures too.


3) Tony Hill and Carol Jordan – author Val McDermid.   Tony Hill is a forensic psychologist who is almost as damaged as the people committing the crimes he is called in to help investigate.  Carol Jordan is a seasoned police officer who has a “will they, won’t they” kind of relationship with him.  I love these books as they are truly clever and show just how screwed up some criminals can be.


4) India Black and French – author Carol K. Carr.  India Black is a Madam at her own brothel in Victorian London.  She gets involved with the British Secret Service working directly with Disraeli who pairs her up with a toff called French. These books are such fun to read. Ms Carr involves a lot of the history of the day to bring her stories alive. I always look forward to reading these books.


5) Newbury & Hobbes – author George Mann.  These books come under the Steampunk genre.  They are based in the Victorian era, but it is not the Victorian era that we think we know. The Queen is more machine than human and weird mechanical people and machines populate the pages of these exciting books.  Newbury himself is an interesting character who just like Sherlock Holmes is a drug addict. Veronica Hobbes is his new assistant.  She is brave and fiercely independent and gets more an more involved with each case that she’s involved in.


6) Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko – author A.A. Aguirre.  This pair have only been in a couple of  books so far but I enjoy the relationship that these two have – he is a free spirit in the extreme and she is wound so tight that she might crack at any moment. The books are fantasy so might not be to everyone’s taste but these two are my “Ones to Watch”.



Friday, 6 November 2015

Irish Crime Fiction by Margaret Madden of BleachHouseLibrary.ie

When I’m asked about my love of Irish Fiction, there is always a nod toward to genre of crime-thriller.  I’m not sure why we Irish are so good at creating masterful and mysterious texts, but there has definitely been a surge of amazing crime writers in the last few years.  On re-examining this new crop of talent, I noticed a pattern.  Most of these debut authors are women. Why is this?  Is it that women are finally being taken seriously as crime writers (rather than using pens names or co-writers)?  Is it that women can see further inside the brain of both sexes? Is it because females are now in a position to work at their craft full-time, unlike in previous decades?

Author - Jo Spain
One of the perfect examples of this phenomenon is debut writer, Jo Spain, who has recently published her novel With Our Blessing with Quercus Publishing.  A working mother of four young children, she created her first novel by utilising every spare minute she had available to her.  How many male writers, over the years, have had to worry about working full-time, school runs, creating three main meals a day for a family of six, answer never-ending questions from inquisitive children and then try to escape into the mind of a killer in the evening? (Maybe a few, but I would imagine there was a woman floating about nearby.)  

Jo introduces the reader to DI Tom Reynolds, and his team, based in Dublin.  When the body of an elderly woman is found mutilated in a park, the team are led to a convent in the Irish Midlands.  The history behind the walls of the convent is brought to the foreground and fact becomes stranger than fiction.  The author cleverly uses multiple narrative voices to engage the reader, and while the book starts with a gruesome murder, the atmosphere shifts from time to time.  Part Agatha Christie, part Inspector Morse, it has a whodunnit feel, but with an Irish twist. 


The native Irish community is something that can be hard to understand, unless you have been part of it, and along with the ever-present need to be beyond moral reproach, it is an ideal area to set a crime novel. There is always someone looking over your shoulder, twitching curtains or collecting gossip.  There are also many, many hidden secrets in our churches and state buildings.  This debut addresses some of the more recent discoveries, while showing the more real side to the lives of the Gardaí (Irish Police force).  Irish crime fiction may not be as obviously displayed in bookshops outside Éire, but don’t let this put you off.  Most of the bestsellers that you see in your local supermarket or chain bookstore, have been placed there by paying a fee. Trust your local independent booksellers, book bloggers and librarians. We are the ones that read the books, give new authors a chance, and all without prejudice.  

I am now going through a Canadian Literature phase, and it is near impossible to find these books in a regular bookshop.  Don’t be put off by new locations, inaccessible purchasing locations or debut authors. Order any titles you fancy from bookshops, or from independent online booksellers (Kennys.ie do free worldwide postage).  Make the world your oyster.  You will be grateful to escape the over-used locations of USA, Scandinavia and UK for your crime-fix.  Murder has no boundaries…
*
Check out Margaret's fantastic Bleach House Library blog for great reviews and bookish posts. 

Giveaway! 

Jo Spain has kindly offered a signed copy of her book for a lucky reader with an Irish surprise from Margaret Madden too! See Bookshelf Butterfly Facebook and Twitter for entry details!


Thursday, 5 November 2015

A Slow Death by James Craig

It’s Day Four of #BBCrimeWeek and I’ve chosen to review the first Kriminalinspektor Max Drescher book. This is the first title from new crime publishers Fahrenheit Press, who if you aren’t following their brilliant Twitter feed then you’re missing a treat. 

From the author of the Inspector John Carlyle novels comes this new series set in 90s Germany where we are introduced to veteran detective Max Drescher who lives and works very much by his own rules. Max and his partner Michael are put on the case of a cruel family slaying with no clear motive. 

With his own problems to deal with and his days as a police detective numbered, Max wants the case resolved as quick and cleanly as possible. But as the body count rises, Max is faced with a dangerous mix of mafia operations, gang activity and office politics meaning his last assignment may not be wrapped up in quite the way he planned. 

I loved the premise of the story from the start. The Berlin wall has recently come down and the city is still adjusting. It’s a turbulent time which certainly doesn’t make things easy for Max and his colleagues. Between the crime scenes, criminal dens and other locations across the city, you really get a sense of the place which immerses you in the story. 

Max is a brilliant lead character. He’s going through something of a rough patch and doesn’t care what people think of him, but he’s still human and with a great sense of humour so very much likeable, even when he’s not playing fair. He has a great partnership with fellow detective Michael, who balances him out. As well as a big cast of good, bad and ugly characters, there are even a few hard-hitting females sprinkled in the story which I liked. 

There’s a lot for Max and Michael to deal with and they are under time constraints too factoring in Max's looming dismissal and mounting pressure from the higher-ups in the police department for a clean resolution. The brutal nature of the crimes adds to the urgency of the case and the drama of the story. I really enjoyed the level of violence and gore that made the storyline even more punchy. 

The story explores some strong themes aside from the criminal aspect which was interesting to read and even with his future somewhat unclear, I can tell there is so much more for dear Max Drescher to give to hungry crime fiction readers. An excellent start to a promising series, A Slow Death is pacy and exciting with a lead character you can’t help but like and a story you won’t want to end.   

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

D.E. Meredith Interview

Today I'm excited to share an interview with historical crime author D.E. Meredith, creator of the Hatton and Roumande mysteries. 

What first motivated you to start crime writing?

It wasn’t so much motivated to write as a complete weird out of body experience to be honest. I had NO motivate to write. I  was between contracts for Greenpeace. I had a month or so down time and just start tapping at my computer after reading a book by a C19th naturalist in a very stream of conscious way never expecting it to be anything, never mind a story and somehow – the book just started to happen. I wrote a page, then another page and so it went on until I suddenly found I had 100k and then I landed an agent and then it sort of meant that that was what I was suddenly doing. Not working for Greenpeace but crafting stories.  Writing is a very organic process,  I think.  Though I am now much more structured and sit down every day to write between the same hours and stick to a 5 day a week, weekends off approach. In other words, I try to approach it like a job.


Why did you decide that Victorian London would be the best setting for your novels?

I got really interested in the development of C19th natural science (the cutting up of animals)  and wondered if forensics ( including the cutting up of victims to help solve crimes) had got going in this period.  To my surprise, I discovered that many tests still used today – the Marsh Test for detecting arsenic in body tissue, for example and finger printing were discovered as early as  the 1840s and 1850s. Increased  knowledge in chemistry, improved photographic techniques and most importantly, better clarity of lenses and the invention of new powerful microscopes, taken together all  meant the Victorians very much paved the way for the forensic work across the board. And there’s the obvious influence in my novels with Sherlock Holmes and Dickens, of course.  All those gas lit, foggy alleys in the bad lands of Victorian London – what’s not to love?


Did you visit any interesting locations to feature in the stories?

Sadly I didn’t manage to get to Borneo to research Devoured (I wish) but I did go on a tour of Highgate Cemetery which features in The Devils Ribbon and it was an amazing experience – well worth the visit. Smithfield features in both of my books as Professor Hatton lives and works there, so I have spent a lot of time stomping around that bit of town. Every road, every Victorian building in the city is an inspiration. London is C19th time machine – the underground, the embankment, Covent Garden, so many gin places and amazing pubs, Smithfield meat market, Fleur de Lys in Spitalfields, the Houses of Parliament, Waterloo Station  – the Victorians built so much and miraculously, it’s all still there.


There is a high level of detail in your stories, especially with the forensics. How did you go about researching for your books?

I read as many books as I could lay my hands on early forensic science (much of it quite obscure) and spent quite a bit of time at The Welcome Trust, the Science Museum  and also The Hunterian Museum, home of John Hunter’s surgical collection from the C18th and onwards which is an amazing archive  of medical, especially surgical  history. I also used the internet for very specific information and immersed myself in general books on the Victorians. Knowing about forensics wasn’t enough. I had to get the minute detail bang on so I left no stone unturned, to (fact checking stuff to death – excuse the pun – after the initial two or three drafts were completed). Research is  an ongoing process when you’re writing a series. It’s vital to create an authentic world  as you can – something the reader can truly believe  - when you are writing historical fiction.


Is there a particular area of forensics that you are interested in?

Pathology.  Without question. The Victorians paved the way for modern medicine, pain relief, cures for so many diseases, as well as the science of forensics. We owe them so much. The Devils Ribbon opens with an exploration of what they knew about cholera in the 1850s. There was still the widely held belief that this killer disease was carried in bad air they called “miasma” but great men like  John Snow and William Farrah – two extraordinary Victorian men – discovered it was caused by hand to mouth infection from dirty water. And thus avoidable. And eventually, curable.

Devoured tells of the science scene in Victorian London; specimen-collecting, the emergence of forensics and other fledgling discoveries. Was there any real-life inspiration that helped shape that side of the story?

I picked  up a travelogue called The Malay Archipelago by the great C19th natural scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace and felt an immediate and visceral connection with a man who had led are far more exotic lifestyle than any of us could ever imagined. This was a time went travel meant travel. In the 1860s it took months to reach the remote jungles of Borneo.  There was no suez canal or Ryan air – thank God. But Alfred Russel Wallace was  the brilliant, self educated  man who rolled up his sleeves and got on with the job. He was fearless, travelling to some of the most exotic and far flung places on earth. He made his living by cataloguing, trapping and selling exotic flora and fauna  to send home to  rich Victorian clients, feeding the craze for exotic species which had  gone crazy by the mid C19th. Many of his finds – vast collections hummingbirds, beetles, butterflies – can be seen at the Natural History Museum today.  Alfred Russel Wallace was a man obsessed by the wonders of the world and was a more prolific collector of flora and fauna than even Darwin. And his studying of the exotic inspired his contribution to the theory of evolution. It also inspired the letter section in Devoured.


Are the characters of Hatton &Roumande based on real people?

I wish they were but they are totally made up. But they feel real to me now – like old friends, in fact.


The Devil’s Ribbon has links to Ireland and politics? What made you choose that subject theme for the second Hatton &Roumande mystery?

My mother is Irish and I’ve always been fascinated by that side of my family history. I needed a story idea for the next in my Hatton and Roumande series which is set in the 1850s. So I thought about the Irish famine (at the end of the 1840s) and as part of my research, I  read  a  book called, The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith and the material was so shocking, the history of the famine so heart-rending, and the political landscape so enthralling (the birth of the IRA),    the story pretty much wrote itself.


Has your background – campaigning for conservation and your time overseas with the British Red Cross – influenced your writing?

My work allowed me to travel even further afield to some of the remotest spots on earth  – the jungles of  Cambodia, the mist tipped mountains of Rwanda and Burundi, Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush. I was mesmerised by the markets of Phnom Penh, Chicken Street with its bright blue lumps of lapis lazuli and Persian carpets in Kabul, the basket weaving and batiks in  the Congo, lumps of amber in Siberia  as well of course, by the weird and wonderful landscapes and cultures of all these places.  So it wasn’t really a surprise, that a book by a great explorer inspired my initial entrée into writing. That and a sense of justice. I have always had a career in campaigning and writing wrongs. Leading the Red Cross landmines campaign, being witness to the Rwandan genocide, working for organisations who were fighting governments and companies to stop wrecking the planet.  Whilst I don’t write didactic novels, or eco thrillers,  it’s true that I do explore similar themes in my book. The natural world in Devoured. Whilst famine in Ireland was considered to be an attempt at genocide by the English against the Irish by some historians.  This is a matter of opinion but it was certain a systematic failure of political will.  And something I found a fascinating theme to explore.


Which crime writers do you enjoy reading yourself? Or do you prefer a different genre of book for your own personal reading?

I love crime and grew up on a diet of PD James and Agatha Christie. These days most of the crime I enjoy,  however is TV stuff – the adaptions of Vera, Shetland, plus the darker stuff like The Bridge and The Killing, of course. I’m currently loving Unforgotten on ITV and was a big fan of the French TV series Spiral plus countless others – Fargo, Fortitude, Luther.  If it’s crime, I’ll watch it but I steer clear of crime set in my own period,  as I spend all day with my head in that world. On the book front, I’ve recently  read Crooker Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin recently. Set in the Deep South and beautifully crafted and written, I can’t recommend strongly enough. I’m currently reading Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter another elegy on grief and also loved the meta novel HHHH,  by Laurent Binet,  a novel about writing a novel but also about the attempted assassination of Reinhard Heydrich who worked for Himmler in Prague, 1942 which was breathtakingly good and staggeringly original.


Have you ever thought about writing any other books aside from the Hatton &Roumande mysteries?

Funny you should ask that because I’m writing one at the moment set in Rwanda which is a crime novel set against  the backdrop of the genocide in 1994 and its but nothing like I’ve attempted before.


You’ve hinted on social media that a third book is in the works. Can you tell us a bit about it and when can we expect it out?

Not sure when it will be out but I’ve done the first draft and its awaiting a bit of an edit!


Thank you very much again for your time and I eagerly anticipate your next book!


The pleasure was all mine and thanks so much for letting me chat with you on your blog.


For information about D.E. Meredith and her books you can visit her website here

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Top 5 Crime Detectives by Mother Butterfly

Mother Butterfly is a big crime fiction fan since way before I was born and so who better to contribute to crime week than a veteran mystery and thriller reader! In the first of two posts from her this week, she has compiled list of some her favourite crime investigators.


1.)      Dr. Temperance Brennan – author Kathy Reichs.  Dr. Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, working in Canada and occasionally in the US.  She is constantly called in to help the various police departments with unsolved and sometimes very old crimes.   I really enjoy these books as they are fast paced and often gory and exciting.  There are lots of books in the series and although you don’t have to read them in order it does help to get Brennan’s life story in order so you can see where she is coming from. 


2.)      Alex Cross – author James Patterson.  The Alex Cross books are very exciting to read and the author brings Alex Cross and his family to life in his writing.  Cross is a very human character, doing his best for his family as well as his work with both sometimes clashing badly.  As in the books mentioned above, you can read these as one off’s but if you can get them in order it does help with getting the hang of Cross’ family life.


3.)      Kay Scarpetta – author Patricia Cornwall.   Kay Scarpetta is a strong female character who battles with both her superiors and her subordinates on the police force.   Scarpetta’s personal life is often in turmoil which makes her job that bit more difficult.  Ms Cornwall has written many books and lots about Kay Scarpetta.  They are quite complex at times but a must for any detective novel fans.


4.)      Lincoln Rhyme –  author Jeffrey Deaver.  The Lincoln Rhyme books are often clever and complex.  They are very exciting as are most of Jeffrey Deaver’s books  and can be read as a one off as each story is a stand alone.  Lincoln Rhyme is a very clever individual and is able to guide his protégés through cases in an effective manner to solve the crimes.  Very enjoyable reads.


5.)      Precious Ramotswe – author Alexander McCall Smith.  These lovely books are set in Botswana and are in their way quite gentle as is Precious herself.  Make no mistake though she is a good detective and is able to think outside the box.  I found these very interesting as they explain a lot about the culture in Botswana and the neighbouring counties of Africa.  The have been several books about Precious and her “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” and I heartily recommend them for a change of pace.


6.)      Elouise Norton – author Rachel Howzell Hall.  This is my sixth offering in the list and as Ms Hall has only written two books as yet, this is my “One to Watch”.  The books are very good, exciting and full of interesting characters.  Elouise Norton’s character is flawed, passionate and dedicated - a very human detective.  Hopefully there will be many more books in this series to come.


Do you agree with the choices, or is there a literary detective you would add? We would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine by James Lovegrove

I’m kicking off my first ever crime week with one of the world’s most well known detectives; the infamous Mr Sherlock Holmes. The pinnacle of deductive reasoning and astounding feats of logic, Holmes has the brain power and knowledge to crack even the most difficult of cases with his trusty sidekick Dr Watson in tow. 

In this offering by NYT bestselling author James Lovegrove – who has previously written other Sherlock Holmes novels for Titan books – Holmes may have met his match in the form of a revolutionary computational device. 

Challenged to a battle of wits by a pompous Lord and an eccentric Professor, Holmes and Watson travel to Oxford to investigate the brutal slaying of a family where the prime suspect has a strong alibi. Holmes uses his own investigative skills whilst the machine crunches data input to it by its creator, the stuttering Professor Quantock in a bid for intellectual supremacy in the solving of the mystery which has stumped local law enforcement. 

However Holmes and Watson’s time in Oxford is far from uneventful, as a further chain of murders turns what started off as sporting competition into a dangerous puzzle that sends even the great Sherlock Holmes over the edge. 

The story is told from Watson’s perspective as he makes something of a side career out of fictionalising the cases the pair are thrown in to and relates the tale as he experiences it. Of the two, I prefer Watson as a person and often end up feeling for him as he gets caught up in Sherlock’s risky plans and made to feel inferior in the shadow of Holmes’s brilliance. Yes, Holmes is exceptionally clever but not the nicest of people. I guess nobody is perfect and it is what makes him a unique and memorable literary character. 

One thing I really enjoyed about this book and other Holmes stories is the language. There are lots of beautiful long words and clever sounding sentences that convey the elegance of the historical period and the intelligence of the story. The geeky part of me loved the steampunk style computer device that really puts Holmes through his mental paces. 

The past comes back to haunt Sherlock in this story and he really has to put his best thinking foot forward in order to defeat more than one enemy he has made on previous escapades. A brilliant mystery and some dastardly foes to go up against, The Thinking Engine is a marvellous addition to Sherlock Holmes literature that will keep you guessing until the very end.