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The 50/50 killer by Steve Mosby – a review

As I’ve said previously, I’ve a bit of a soft spot for Steve Mosby as he always seems like a nice chap. So I bought a copy of this book at the festival last year just so I would have something for him to sign. Not in a weird stalker way I hasten to add, just because I always feel sorry for the authors at the festival who don’t have a new book out at the time. They always seem to get less people asking for their signature which makes me feel sad (yes I know they are probably actually just grateful to get a break from being pestered by fans). Therefore I bought this book from the book tent. At the time I thought I’d already read it, but once again I was wrong. I’m glad I have read it now though.

The book starts with a man having been burned in his own home. Then another man turns up at the police station with a story about him and his girlfriend having been abducted and him managing to escape. Mark Nelson is a young policeman assigned to the team of the infamous detective John Mercer. All the evidence points to the perpetrator being the 50/50 killer who abducts couples and then makes them decide which one will live and which one will die.

This was a truly gripping read and in parts quite terrifying. I really hate masks, and have a fear of people hiding in the loft watching me (luckily my old house didn’t have a loft and this one has got so much stuff shoved up it no one could get the hatch open let alone live up there) and this book had both. The story of the killer and the danger that the couples are in was scary.

The main character of Mark Nelson was a bit annoying, turning up late on his first day instantly annoyed me, however he gets better and I enjoyed the pairing of him and the seasoned detective Mercer.

The story is told from varying viewpoints, and over a period of a couple days which gives the book an almost dizzy feel it is so fast. It did take me a little while to click my brain into the style of this time line but once there it was a great way of telling a story.

I would definitely recommend this book, which I think is the first of Steve Mosby’s crime novels, and from what I can see each one just gets better. I look forward to reading more, and now I know that I have definitely got and read all of his current ones I’ll just have to wait for his new one, hopefully its not too long.

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No time for goodbye

The tents have gone, the bar is empty, and the dead body outline has been taken up from outside the front door, yes the annual Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival has finished for another year. Despite the rain which was an unwelcome new addition to the festival, normally the organisers are able to arrange for glorious sunshine, once again it was an absolutely fantastic weekend.

Arriving on Thursday afternoon as soon as you drive up the path there is an unmistakable buzz that says you are in for a real treat. The tents were even bigger than last year, there was an outdoor bar and the whole thing was set around one of the best bookcases I’ve ever seen.

Anyone who has any interest in books will by now know that J K Rowling made an appearance as Robert Galbraith, an event which surprisingly was completely wizard free. However this was only one of many many fantastic sessions put together by programme chair Steve Mosby of which it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite.

There was no doubt that for me Lynda La Plante was definitely a highlight. It showed exactly what I love about this festival. I went along with a pre-conceived idea, I had seen a lot of her tv credits but had only read one of her books so I was in two minds as to whether to go. Yet she completely blew me away. She was funny, charming, interesting and intelligent, and it definitely goes down as the session I laughed the most in. I came away wanting to immediately rush out and buy all her back catalogue.

Unfortunately the back seat and boot of the car were already full with all the other books we’d bought so I thought it best to wait until I got home. Thanks to Mr F a copy of Twisted is now on the top of my ‘to read’ pile, a pile which could conceivably be described as more a tower than a pile. The number of books I came home with possibly out did even last year’s tally, as it is completely impossible to sit and enjoy listening to authors talk without wanting to go and read their books. I can’t guarantee I’ll manage to get through as many as Natalie Haynes who in the turning to crime session said she’d read about 220 novels last year, but I’ll give it a go.

As always there are some interesting debates and points of view put forward, during one session James Smythe suggested what is possibly both the best and the worst idea ever. He thought that one way of getting people to read books they wouldn’t usually read was by changing bookshops around so that books are stored a-z rather than by category. This could be a good way to find new books, but would mean that a quick trip to the bookshop would actually end up taking me all day.

People familiar with this festival will know that listening to the authors up on stage is only one part of the fun, celebrity author spotting adds another dimension, which author eats the most for breakfast, who was the last still standing in the bar at night, will people make it to the morning sessions, and of course the most important question of all, will anyone join us to make a team for the Saturday night quiz. Excitingly for us this year we were actually joined by the lovely Tony Thompson, although our performance was rather dismal compared to this years winning team lead by Stav Sherez.

The weekend is certainly not a relaxing one, its non-stop with sessions and book signings back to back throughout with little time for chatting. Yet it is definitely one of my most favourite ways to spend a weekend, finished off as always by a quick Betty’s lunch before heading home to sort through all my new books. Its a wonderful weekend,  and a great way of finding new authors, plus you never know what interesting knowledge you’ll pick up, who knew cabbage shows up the same as blood in some forensic tests. I’ll be more careful with my cabbage chopping in future!

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Questions and answers with Eva Dolan

As those of you who read my reviews know I recently enjoyed the Long way home by  Eva Dolan set in my home town of Peterborough. So I was delighted to be offered the chance of a question and answer session with Eva prior to her appearance at the festival. 

1) Why did you choose Peterborough as the setting for your novel?

The subject matter of Long Way Home – the murder of a migrant worker and the wall of silence met by the police in that community – dictated the location. Peterborough has a sizeable population of economic migrants from all over Europe and as the city is quite small it makes for an interesting social situation. It’s one of those places most people only see through a train window as they wait at the station or in the news when journalists want to look at the issues around migration, so it was familiar without being well known.
It was a new setting for crime fiction too and I liked the idea of having a city all to myself, one with a long and illustrious history based around the cathedral and a declining manufacturing industry which has left Peterborough slightly stranded and directionless in the 21st century. Also the surrounding Fenlands tugged at me. Tens of thousands of acres of black earth and steep, treacherous drainage ditches, villages standing isolated under those huge horizons – it’s a landscape built for nefarious deeds.

2) Did you start the novel knowing you were writing a series or was it something that you decided as you wrote?

I hoped it might grow into a series but writing is such an unpredictable business that I simply didn’t know what was going to happen.
Starting out I had a clear vision of my detectives, both outsiders to differing degrees, dealing with a community where the police are distrusted and avoided at all costs; DI Zigic, a family man and a solid professional, aware that his promotion to heading up the newly formed Hate Crimes department was based on his third generation status, an immigrant now in nothing but name, and DS Ferreira, born in Portugal, raised on the Fens in a series of caravans and bedsits as her parents scraped together enough money to give their children a better life. She is closer in experience to the victims they work with and her sympathy has a tendency to boil over into anger.
As Long Way Home progressed I began to realise these were characters I wanted to write more about; they kept revealing little secrets and personality kinks I hadn’t considered in my notes, while the world they were entering – of slums and brothels, gangmasters and thugs – kept moving into new, ever seedier, corners.
I wanted to stick with that world, and my characters, and hopefully readers will feel the same way.

3) Often writers say they get rejected a number of times before finally getting published, was this the first book you wrote or are there other unpublished novels that came first?

There are lots! I have a hard drive stuffed with unpublished novels, two other series spanning five books, standalone police procedurals and what would now be termed domestic noirs, countless partials and outlines. Mostly they were never rejected because nobody has seen them but me.
The book which hooked my agent is the only one which went out on submission and it received some very kind and complimentary rejections which, although disappointing, encouraged me to keep going. Ultimately that book just wasn’t good enough to stand out from the crowd and it was an important experience for me. I realised that getting published meant doing something a bit different, showing editors a world they hadn’t seen before – Long Way Home felt like that new and unusual something as I was writing it and thankfully it caught the eye of Alison Hennessey at Harvill Secker.

4) What other writers do you enjoy reading and is it mainly crime or other genres?

Too many too mention them all but I love the hardboiled classics like Chandler and MacDonald, Patricia Highsmith’s psychological thrillers, Ian Rankin, John Harvey and Martyn Waites for their social crime novels and when it’s escapism I’m hankering after, Jason Goodwin and Boris Akunin. The crime genre is positively humming with talent and the new writers coming up are producing an eclectic mix, Sarah Hilary and Luca Veste’s fresh detectives look set to run for a long time, James Oswald and Lauren Beukes are producing fantastic crossover novels and the British scene especially is bristling with gritty talent; the likes of Kevin Sampson, Howard Linskey and Tom Benn.
I think it’s important for a writer to read widely in the genre but outside it too. The author I reread most often is Emile Zola – his Rougon-Macquart series contains the whole of human nature as it slams up against modernity and mechanisation, concerns which we’re still dealing with a hundred years on. Lately I’ve really enjoyed The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman and Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove – both excellent summer reads for people who want a bit of substance by the pool – and I adored The Goldfinch, completely ripped through it.

5) What is your next novel about and when is it due out?

The next Zigic and Ferreira book – still stubbornly untitled – is out in early January. Here’s the blub…

‘The car that ploughs into the bus stop early one morning leaves a trail of death and destruction behind it.
DS Ferreira and DI Zigic are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to handle the investigation but with another major case on their hands, one with disturbing Neo-Nazi overtones, they are relieved when there seems to be an obvious suspect. But the case isn’t that simple and with tensions erupting in the town, leading to more violence, the media are soon hounding them for answers.
Ferreira believes that local politician Richard Shotton, head of a recently established right-wing party, must be involved somehow. Journalists have been quick to acclaim Shotton, with his Brazilian wife and RAF career, as a serious contender for a major political career, despite his extremist views, but is his party a cover for something far more dangerous?’

6) Are you looking forward to the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival?

I am hugely looking forward to it. Lots of drinking and gossiping with lovely writing folks and an excuse to buy a new capsule wardrobe, it’s the highlight of the summer!
Last year was my first at the festival and the atmosphere was amazing, so warm and welcoming, authors chatting with fans and bloggers, a really chilled out affair – I’d urge any crime fan who hasn’t been yet to make the trip, even if it’s just for a day. The organising committee have attracted some massive name – JK Rowling, Lynda LaPlante, John Harvey and lots more – and, being Harrogate, where the wits are quick and the drink free-flowing there are bound to be fireworks on some of the panels…
On a personal level I’m honoured and delighted to be part of Val McDermid’s New Blood event, alongside three outstanding debut novelists; Ray Celestin, Helen Giltrow and Nicola White. Their books are all very different but equally original and compelling. Hopefully we’ll keep the audience well entertained for an hour.
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Thanks very much to Eva and Vintage publishing for their time, and don’t forget to enter the competition to win a copy of Long Way Home.

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Third time lucky

The programme for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival has been released and as always it’s looking very exciting. Steve Mosby is the programme chair and he’s ‘played a blinder’ as they say up North. There look to be some really exciting sessions and the programme covers everything crime related from family based novels or ‘domestic noir’ as it is labelled, to writing plot twists, through to science and forensics. There are of course some usual staples including the TV session which this year is Broadchurch (sadly David Tennant isn’t attending) and the New Blood panel which is always one of my favourites.

The release of the new programme of course means the start of a new challenge. I’ve printed off a copy and the highlighter has been out. It looks like I’ve a lot of reading to do if I’m going to be anywhere near completing the TOPCWFC 2014 (for any new readers that stands for Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival Challenge, more details can be found here)

There are 17 sessions not including the opening ceremony, the dinner or the quiz (all three of which we shall of course be attending despite not being able to recreate our beginners luck with our quiz team last year!) Within those sessions if my highlighting and counting is correct there are currently 52 authors.

This being the third year of the challenge however things are getting a little more complicated. For example can I only count authors where I’ve read their latest book, or can I count any I’ve ever read? Do audiobooks count or only those actually read? Can I count those I started but didn’t finish? Can I count an author if I’ve only read something they wrote under a different name?

Well as it’s my challenge, it’s my rules. Therefore in answer to the above, I can count authors if I’ve ever read anything by them (although I will try to read the latest one if I get chance) I can count audiobooks (although obviously they are tricky to get signed) I can’t count authors if I didn’t finish the book and I can count those where I’ve read something they wrote under a different name. For those of you who are wondering, I am not referring to JK Rowling in this particular question as I’m afraid The Cuckoo Calling actually falls into the previous category and I don’t think I’ve read any Harry Potter. However Martyn Waites will be appearing who also writes as one half of Tania Carver whose books I have read.

Therefore taking into account the new rules I’ve just made up, my current author count as of today is 18. Not a bad start really, however it looks much more promising if I count sessions. Of those 17 sessions I’ve read at least one author in 14 of them. I think that’s an excellent start, with 12 weeks to go I am pretty confident that I’ll complete the TOPCWFC 2014 lite. Therefore the big challenge this year will be to try and complete the full thing for the first time. This may be a stretch as I’d have to read 2.83 books a week which could be tricky especially as I return to work full time next week but what’s life without a few challenges and as they say third time lucky.

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The Dark Room by Steve Mosby – a review

I first encountered Steve Mosby at last year’s festival, however this is the first of his books I’ve read which was actually a bit of a surprise. For some reason I’ve always assumed I’ve read his books but can’t find any evidence of it. It was one of the first books I bought at the festival this year.

After hearing the first round of ‘twittergate’ last year at the festival I must confess to having a bit of a soft spot for this chap. That means it’s always a gamble in case the book is a disappointment. Therefore I’m very pleased to say that the Dark Room was far from a disappointment.

The book starts with Detective Andrew Hicks and his partner Laura going to the scene of a crime where a woman has been murdered. To the Detectives it seems a simple case of a crime of passion and the first port of call is the ex-husband. However when a homeless person then turns up having been murdered in the same way things start to get more complicated. As far as Hick’s can tell people are being killed seemingly at random and with no links which goes completely against his belief that most murders are easily explained.

As the story progresses, alongside the other victims, we are introduced to a grieving candle-maker Levchenko and his wife Jasmina, the strange General and Hick’s pregnant wife Rachel. Hick’s has to solve these apparently unrelated murders as well deal with his own personal issues around family and impending fatherhood.

I really enjoyed this book. One of the elements that I thought stood out in this novel, and may indeed be a theme throughout the authors other works, is the anonymous setting. The author is from Leeds, a nearby city I’ve come to know better recently (although won’t be moving there!) but there is no indication that the story is based here. It could be set in any dark northern city. This gives the writing a certain blankness unusual to a lot of novels which nowadays often have the setting playing a key part to the stories.

The stories of the different characters were cleverly interwoven and the different viewpoints they were told from helped to make the switch between characters clearly identified. Overall I thought this book was very interesting, although I was a little disappointed by the perpetrators motive in the end. However that didn’t detract from what was a dark and disturbing tale. It was a great story, that keeps you gripped until the end. I’ll definitely be looking out for more Steve Mosby books in the future and am very pleased to hear he is going to be chairing the programme committee at next year’s festival.

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