It's my pleasure this week to review Tony Forder's 'Slow Slicing', the latest novel in his bestselling Bliss and Chandler police procedural series. I interviewed Tony for my blog in April 2019, and you can read that post here: Interview with Tony Forder.
Right, on with my review of 'Slow Slicing'! Here's a taster of the plot:
WHEN DEATH BECOMES THE KINDEST CUT OF ALL
When slices of flesh and body parts are discovered in different areas of the country, DI Bliss and his team are tasked with running the operation. After Bliss realises the victims have been subjected to a specific form of torture, it leads him to a cold case involving the brutal and bloody murder of a woman in London twenty-six years earlier.
As the team discover links between their victims, the murdered woman, and gangland crime, they begin a dangerous investigation into both the past and the present. But Bliss is stumped, unable to decide if the current spate of mutilations are acts of revenge or the result of ageing criminals seeking to hide their despicable actions. Following a leak to the media, Bliss’s reaction may have dire consequences.
With the hunt for the victims at fever point, Bliss uncovers evidence steering him in the direction of one particular individual. The only problem being, his prime suspect is the one person it cannot possibly be. When Bliss orders a sting operation, the astonishing truth is revealed. And that’s when things really start to go wrong…
More twists than a bag of pretzels...
Wow, sounds intriguing, right? And it is. 'Slow Slicing' is yet another superb book in Tony Forder's Bliss and Chandler series. It's a dark and disturbing read that delivers more twists than a bag of pretzels, and never fails to entertain. When I say 'dark and disturbing', I mean it - this is not a novel for the squeamish. At one point I had to take a deep breath before reading on, because what was happening wasn't pretty. I expect that from crime fiction anyway; the book blurb specifically mentions torture, so I can't say I wasn't warned. The violence described is never gratuitous, though; it's relevant to the plot but never dominates it.
Let's start with the story. The pacing is relentless and the narrative fascinating. 'Slow Slicing' is a page turner that poses intriguing questions. Why has the torturer waited so long to exact revenge? Wait - maybe it's not vengeance, but an attempt by gangsters to conceal other crimes. Other weird stuff crops up too. What's the reason for the letters and numbers carved into the victims' body parts? Tony keeps his reader guessing throughout, but all the questions are answered by the time the satisfying conclusion rolls around.
Bliss and Chandler are well-drawn characters, and continue their symbiotic relationship in 'Slow Slicing'. This time Chandler takes a back seat, with Bliss often branching out on his own. At best this causes tension between him and Penny; at worst it entails serious consequences for Bliss's career. Bliss, with his usual 'don't care' attitude, is solely concerned with catching the bad guys, and if his methods are unorthodox, so what? That doesn't go down well with his superior officers, of course!
I've said it before and I'll say it again - this author ranks in terms of talent with the very best of novelists. I wish I could award 'Slow Slicing' more than five stars, but hey ho, life's not perfect! Let's just say the five stars I'm giving this book are all supernovas.
Discover more about Tony Forder and his novels:
Recently I read 'Thinner' (1984) by Richard Bachman. For those who don't know, Richard Bachman is a pseudonym of the great Stephen King. When King was embarking on his writing career, many publishers opted not to release more than one book per year by each author, since they believed more would be unacceptable to the public. (How times have changed!) King therefore chose to write under a pen name to increase his sales without over-saturating the market for his books. There are seven books in the Bachman collection, with Thinner being the fourth; the others include 'The Running Man', later made into a well-known film. King has stated that that writing as Richard Bachman was also his way of discovering whether his success was due to talent or luck. He deliberately released his Bachman novels without much marketing fanfare, but his identity was revealed before he ever got his answer. Here's a taster:
'Thinner' - the old gypsy man barely whispers the word. Billy feels the touch of a withered hand on his cheek. Billy Halleck, prosperous if overweight citizen, happily married, shuddered then turned angrily away. The old woman's death had been none of his fault. The courts had cleared him. She'd just stumbled in front of his car. Now he simply wanted to forget the whole messy business. Later, when the scales told him he was losing weight, it was what the doctor ordered. His wife was pleased - as she should have been. But . . . 'Thinner' - the word, the old man's curse, has lodged in Billy's mind like a fattening worm, eating at his flesh, at his reason. And with his despair, comes violence.
Wow! A gypsy curse - great material for a maestro like King!
'Thinner' doesn't disappoint. It's shorter than his usual trademark novels that weigh in at several hundred pages, but its writing style is pure Stephen King. How did it take four Bachman books before his cover got blown?! Sprinkled throughout the narrative are his trademark motifs, such as splitting a sentence over a few lines, with italicised and bracketed text in between. Also evident is his penchant for all-American brand names, and the fact that much of the action takes place in Maine. What's more, his characters even refer to a situation as 'like something out of a Stephen King novel' at one point. Cheeky, but amusing!
The protagonist, Billy Halleck, is not a likeable character; he's arrogant and lacks self-awareness. Nobody else in the book, with the possible exception of Billy's wife Heidi, comes across any better. The originator of the curse, Taduz Lemke, and his granddaughter Gina are especially vicious, unforgiving individuals. This lack of anyone with whom to empathise might mean some readers could find it hard to connect with the story, but that aspect didn't bother me. To me, Billy is all too human in his failings; had the woman's death been murder rather than an accident, the gypsy's curse may have been more understandable, but the old man acts out of malevolence and spite. What I found fascinating was King's examination of the various emotions Billy experiences throughout the book. From the start we know he killed another human being through a motor accident, and the story is very much about guilt, responsibility and justice. At first, Billy wants to put the incident behind him, and it's not until he understands he's been cursed does he begin to deal with his demons. Having said that, the book contains much injustice; it's hard to say more without giving plot spoilers, but the cruel twist at the end is a good example. That was unkind of you, Mr King, although I guess you intended it as poetic justice! Anyone for strawberry pie?
So would I recommend 'Thinner'?
Yes, I would. The book rambles a little at times and it doesn't rank for me as one of King's best, but it's a lot better than 'From a Buick 8', which lacked structure and rambled a LOT. (Click here to read my review - From A Buick 8). Also, as a diehard Stephen King fan, I'm happy to sample his lesser-known work. I'll look out for further Richard Bachman books.
What about you? Have you read 'Thinner'?
Did you enjoy it? Leave a comment and let me know! (UK readers, you can check out 'Thinner' by clicking on the main image.
Today I'm delighted to welcome novelist Ian Skewis to my blog. Ian's first novel, 'A Murder of Crows', was published in 2017. A proud moment for any writer! Let's get going with the questions.
Tell us about 'A Murder of Crows'.
'A Murder Of Crows' is a crime thriller featuring DCI Jack Russell, who is on his final case before retiring. He is led to believe that the case will be relatively simple and it proves to be anything but. A serial killer has emerged and seems to be just getting started and it becomes a race against time to prevent the evolution of this new menace.
Sounds great! What inspired the plot for the book?
It was part inspired by an event that happened to me when I was nine years old. I was out for a walk in the country with my parents and we found a dead man hanging from a tree. My dad called the police and my mum kept me away from the site. But my imagination kind of filled in the gaps and from there a very strange little tale emerged. Needless to say, the countryside has long since taken on a rather more sinister aspect for me and this is very much evident in the book. This was in 1979. Now finally, the story, which I officially started writing in 1989, has taken flight as it were. Pun intended!
What’s next for you? Will A Murder of Crow be the first in a series, and if so, can you give us any hints?
About three years ago I came up with an idea for a sequel of sorts but I was determined that I wouldn't write it unless I could find something really challenging about it - I think I now have a really good follow-up story - one that will take on some very surprising twists and turns. As for hints, it begins six months after A Murder Of Crows ends and will involve a psychic, a female detective and the return of an old enemy...
What is your all-time favourite novel?
Atonement by Ian McEwan is still my favourite. I loved the fact that this character felt so bad about what she had done to what were essentially two innocent people, that she completely rewrote their history in a book - an act of kindness, albeit many years too late. I was surprised at how good the film version was too. Books that comment in some way on writing and its gift to heal always appeal to me - Life Of Pi being another example.
Do you prefer to read e-books or paper books?
I always prefer paper, and in particular, paperbacks. They yield and become old, dog-eared and yellowed with age and there is something very human and comforting about that. Hardbacks are good too but they don't bend easily and are less portable, I feel.
Do you think the cover plays an important part of the buying process?
Absolutely! I had a whale of a time designing my book cover. My publisher actually sent me a three page questionnaire asking things like what font I wanted to use, how I would describe the contents of the story and what images did I reckon would be suitable for the cover. I always knew it would be a lone crow. I actually had some sketches from 2009 that I did when I could only dream of such things as book covers and it was amazing to be able to literally draw on that and see it come to life! I'm thrilled with the end result, and all thanks to Mark Ecob for being very patient and such a good collaborator. The book cover is very stark and haunting and the crow's eye contains other elements such as a blood red moon, and a farmer's scythe - all very symbolic...
What is the hardest thing about writing a book?
For me it was always a lack of confidence. I spent years listening to those doubts in my head telling me that I wasn't all that good, and who did I think I was, deigning to write? I know now that this was just my inner critic, which is healthy and no bad thing. But a healthy balance is what's needed. It goes back to believing in yourself and reaching for the stars but keeping one's feet on the ground.
What is the easiest thing about writing a book?
The freedom to do anything you like. One of the reasons I gave up acting (I was a professional actor) was that I always felt like part of a greater whole and often I had bigger ideas than that. Now as a writer I can conjure up entire worlds. I have the last word on everybody's destiny. That is an incredible palette to be able to work from. However, when you play God, and all writers do to a greater or lesser degree, then that comes with a huge responsibility. So when I have to end someone's life in a story for example, I never take it lightly. When I had to kill someone in 'A Murder Of Crows' I cried as I wrote it because I wrote it not from the point of the gore or the violence but from the memories of that person as they faded away, the ground rushing up towards them, all their regrets, all the things they still could have done, had their life not been cut short. Another character in the book has a tragic and very emotional ending that was really difficult for me to write. I felt I had somehow locked them up and thrown away the key, condemned them to a terrible existence. If these characters were real they would probably slap my face for what I did to them - and deservedly so!
What advice would you give to would-be novelists?
Believe in yourself - but keep your feet on the ground. And beware of who you take advice from. All industries have their charlatans. It's worth stating here that if something feels wrong then it probably is - so above all, trust your instinct!
Thank you, Ian, for your time! It's been a pleasure interviewing you.
If you'd like to know more about Ian and his books, check out his website: www.ianskewis.com.
Blood is thicker than water...
This week's post is a review of the Sunday Times bestseller 'Good Me Bad Me' by author Ali Land. Here's a taster:
Annie's mother is a serial killer.
The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.
But out of sight is not out of mind.
As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly.
A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.
But Milly's mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.
She is, after all, her mother's daughter...
The old question of nature versus nurture
'Good Me Bad Me' is told entirely in the narrative voice of Milly, formerly known as Annie, a fifteen-year-old in foster care after turning her serial killer mother in to the police. At first I struggled with this; Milly is a confused and very disturbed girl, and the writing reflects her anguish. Short, clipped phrases show her inner turmoil and the book wasn't easy reading at first. Sentences such as 'Shifted in his chair he did. Sat up straight, him and his gut' jarred on me, but after a while I got used to the author's style. Taken from a terrible situation in which she is horribly abused, you'd think Milly's new foster family would offer her some hope for a brighter future. They are wrestling with their own issues, however, and hide dark dysfunctional secrets. Mike, her foster father, is tasked with preparing her for the trial against her mother, which he does as best he can, but Saska, his wife, is a different matter. Remote, emotionally absent, she barely touches Milly's life and in no way provides an adequate maternal substitute. The daughter, Phoebe, bullies Milly and over time the pressure on the vulnerable fifteen-year-old grows. In her head, Milly talks to her mother a lot, seeking to make sense of her fractured life but unable to break free from the woman's stranglehold over her emotions.
The book throws up uncomfortable questions, such as: should she be pitied or feared? Nature versus nurture? On the one hand, Milly is desperate for reassurance that she's not a psychopath like her mother. On the other, how can she escape her terrible start in life? As the blurb says, blood is thicker than water, and Milly has witnessed things no child should ever see. Her turmoil has to find an outlet somehow...
The plot has some frustrating elements, such as some loose ends. For example, a threat to the safety of Miss Kemp, one of Milly's teachers, is hinted at when Milly finds out where she lives. Milly considers herself slighted by this woman, giving rise to the expectation that she will attempt to exact revenge. However, this tantalising glimpse of what might have been never gets resolved, which makes me wonder why it was ever included. In addition, the ending is somewhat odd; it's hard to say much without giving plot spoilers, but I doubt Mike would have capitulated to Milly's manipulations as quickly as he did.
I also suspect Milly's behaviour would have been very different. Most of the time she is well-behaved, polite and strives to fit in with her foster family and at school. Would a girl who has been physically and sexually abused, who has witnessed murder, act this way? Would she not be self-harming, hurting others, trashing her room, etc? Perhaps the 'good me' part of her character is a little too saccharine and unlikely.
Would I recommend 'Good Me Bad Me'? Yes, despite the minor niggles. The story is engrossing and, as a debut novel, it's impressive. Definitely worth a read, in my opinion.
People who see music and taste words...
In October 2016 I discovered I have synaesthesia, which came as a surprise! It seems that many people, myself included, don't realise that they view the world differently.
What is synaesthesia, you may be wondering? It’s when the senses cross over, meaning one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another. For example, hearing a sound may result in a synaesthete seeing that sound in colour; musicians such as Billy Joel and Mary J. Blige visualise music this way.
Synaethesthia can combine any of the senses, although the most common types are the ones I have, when letters, numbers and time assume colours and shapes. I find some of the rarer forms, such as lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, in which people taste words, fascinating! As a foodie, I’m quite envious of that one, but studies show only 0.2% of people have lexical-gustatory synaesthesia.
To help non-synaesthetes understand, to some extent we all do this anyway. Have you ever talked about warm colours or complained that the weather is bitterly cold? Then you’ll have some idea of what I mean. Think about smell and taste; those senses are linked for almost everyone, meaning we can predict how a food will taste from sniffing it. Synaesthesia takes this process a step further.
It’s a shame some of the articles I read referred to it as an affliction or medical condition. To me, that smacks of the prejudice that existed decades ago against left-handed people, and isn’t helpful.
August is such an orange month...
There are two main forms of synaesthesia – projective and associative. People with the former type actually see the shapes and colours projected into their vision, whereas others, like me, have the associative type – we see the results in our mind’s eye, not in reality. Statistics vary as to how many people are synaesthetes – the most common one indicates that 4.4% of people have it. Some researchers have postulated that everyone is born with synaesthesia, with most people losing the ability early in childhood. Early research linked synaethesia to being left-handed and poor with mathematics, although later studies contradict such findings. As a right-handed ex-accountant, that's definitely not true for me!
I came across the condition a while ago, thought "yeah, I have that - doesn't everyone see letters in colour?" and then didn't think any more about it. After all, we don’t tend to ask people what colour their alphabet is, or how they visualise time; I honestly thought everyone must use some sort of mental map to process numbers and years. It was only when I read something about Vladimir Nabokov, who was a synaesthete, that I chanced on a Wikipedia article on the subject. After reading through it, it was obvious to me that I had synaesthesia and that it took several forms, which apparently is common. I took the long and very detailed online test at http://www.synesthete.org/ and the results confirmed my suspicions.
Tasting of Flora and the country green...
Kandinsky may have been a synaesthete! It appears that synaesthesia may be more prevalent in women than men, and is seven times more likely to occur in artists, musicians and writers. Besides Nabokov, other authors with synaesthesia include Joanne Harris and Orhan Pamuk. In literature, synaesthesia refers to a technique adopted by writers to present fiction so it appeals to more than one sense at a time. Take this quote from Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale: 'Tasting of Flora and the country green, Dance, and Provencal song, and sun burnt mirth!' In this example, music, dance, etc, are described as having taste – very synaesthetic!
What about this quote from Julia Glass’s novel 'The Whole World Over'? 'The word would fill her mind for a few minutes with a single color: not an unpleasant sensation but still an intrusion… Patriarch: Brown, she thought, a temple of a word, a shiny red brown, like the surface of a chestnut.'
I have to disagree – ‘patriarch’ is definitely lemon-coloured! No two synaesthetes view things in quite the same way, it seems. For me, words take on the colour of their first letter, unless we're talking about weekdays or months, and 'P' is pale yellow.
I’m considering ways to use my synaesthesia in my writing, both through my narrative description and as the basis for a novel or series of novels. Now that I’ve discovered I’m a synaesthete, I’m keen to put it to practical use!
What about you?
Are any of you synaesthetes and if so, what types do you have? Leave a comment and let me know!
A tragic case made the news a few years ago with the revelation that a young American woman, Kamiyah Mobley, had discovered she'd been abducted as a baby. It seems she'd harboured an inkling for a while that she may have been kidnapped. DNA tests subsequently proved that she was the baby abducted from a Florida hospital in July 1998 by a woman posing as a nurse. Gloria Williams, who is now in custody, brought her up as her own daughter, unbeknown to the man who believed himself to be the child's father.
The case caught my eye because it mirrors some of the events in my novel 'His Kidnapper's Shoes'. While Daniel is abducted as a young child, not a baby, and from his home rather than a hospital, other facts are similar. Laura Bateman brings him up as her own child, and the truth only emerges after Daniel reaches adulthood. Like Kamiyah, he has nursed suspicions that Laura may not be his biological mother, although his doubts stem from early childhood.
The original idea for 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' came from a conversation I had in 2010 concerning missing children. I put forward the opinion that most children who are kidnapped are taken by opportunistic predators. Someone else disagreed, saying that perhaps some are stolen by people unable to have children of their own. That makes sense when a baby is concerned, of course; it's believed Williams suffered a miscarriage a week before she kidnapped Kamiyah. A tragic set of events for all concerned.
Anyway, the conversation got me thinking. How would it feel to discover as an adult that you'd been kidnapped as a child? That the woman who you considered your mother was actually your abductor? From that seed the idea for 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' was born. Here's a taster:
On some deep level inside, Laura Bateman knows something is wrong. That her relationship with her son is not what it should be. That it is based on lies. But bad things have happened to Laura. Things that change a person. Forever.
For twenty-six-year old Daniel, the discovery that his mother is not who he thought comes close to destroying him. As his world turns upside down, he searches for sanity in the madness that has become his life. Daniel is left with nothing but questions. Why did Laura do something so terrible? Can he move past the demons of his childhood?
And the biggest question of all: can he ever forgive Laura?
A tense novel of psychological suspense, 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' weaves one man's quest for his identity with one woman's need to heal her troubled past.
You can buy the book from Amazon in e-book, audiobook or paperback format via this link: His Kidnapper's Shoes
By a strange coincidence, round about the same time as I finished the first draft of the book, another case came to light in America in which a young woman discovered she'd been kidnapped from hospital as a baby. A while back I blogged about novels based on real-life crimes. You can read the post here: Five Novels Inspired by Real-Life Crimes.
'Sandrine' by Thomas H Cook is an unusual novel, and might annoy some readers because it falls between two stools genre-wise. On the face of it, it's a legal thriller; much of the action centres around the trial of Samuel Madison for the murder of his wife Sandrine. Here's the Amazon description:
How did Sandrine die? There was no forced entry. She had been gradually stockpiling prescription drugs. A lethal quantity of Demerol was found in her blood. But did the beautiful, luminous Sandrine Madison really take her own life? The District Attorney doesn't think so. Neither does the local newspaper. And so Sandrine's husband must now face a town convinced of his guilt and a daughter whose faith in her father has been shaken to its core. But, as he stands in the dock, Samuel Madison must confront yet more searing questions: Who was Sandrine? Why did she die? And why – how? – is she making him fall in love with her all over again?
The last line gives the clue as to the book's other focus. 'Sandrine' is one of the most moving love stories I've ever read. Not that I read much in the romance genre, as I find a lot of what's on offer is clichéd, full of lantern-jawed heroes and catwalk-beautiful heroines. If all love stories were as good as 'Sandrine', however, I'd read more widely in the genre. No cardboard stereotypes are found among the book's cast of characters. Instead, Samuel Madison is flawed and very believable; he's failed to achieve his ambitions and is disappointed by his marriage. Once madly in love with his wife, over time he becomes indifferent towards her, as well as apathetic about his own life. Sandrine's death forces him to acknowledge, through a tortured examination of his behaviour, how people often don't realise they possess a treasure until they lose it. The book charts Sam's gradual realisation of his faults and asks whether love can be reawakened, even after death. And poses the question: did he murder Sandrine?
This isn’t an 'edge of the seat' type of legal thriller; the pace is slower than anything John Grisham might write. The novel has its issues; some readers report being turned off by its frequent literary references, which are frequent and colourful. Given both Sandrine and Sam work at a liberal arts college, and Sam's ambition is to be a writer, it seems reasonable they'd make such references, so they didn't bother me. The main weakness, for me, was that some aspects of the story stretch belief, but I can't elaborate without giving major plot spoilers! Overall, though, this novel was a joy to read, and the ending moved me to tears. I highly recommend it.
Have you read 'Sandrine' and, if so, what did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!
In this week's post, I want to share five books I've found helpful along my writing journey. They cover a range of topics from mindset to productivity, and I dip into them regularly. I hope you find them useful. To view each book on Amazon UK, click or tap the individual images.
1: Rachel Aaron - 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love
2: Libbie Hawker - Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing
3: Jacqueline Garlick - The End: Edit Smarter Not Harder: Ten Simple Fix-Its Guaranteed To Strengthen Any Manuscript
4: Joanna Penn - How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More
5: Honoree Corder - Prosperity for Writers: A Writer's Guide to Creating Abundance
I hope you've found these suggestions useful!
Are there any books you've found helpful in your writing journey? Leave a comment and let me know!
This week's blog post is a book review of 'The Widow', Fiona Barton's first novel. The book was published in 2016 and has achieved both Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller status. It's billed as 'the ultimate psychological thriller... a terrifically chilling exploration of the darkness at the heart of a seemingly ordinary marriage.'
Wow! When I read that, I decided this novel was right up my street, both as the kind of book I like to read and also to write.. Here's the description from Amazon:
'We've all seen him: the man - the monster - staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him? Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.'
Sounds gripping, doesn't it?
'The Widow' doesn't disappoint. I read it in one sitting, forcing my eyes to stay open one night as I devoured the contents into the small hours. I loved Fiona's depiction of the two main characters, Glen and Jeanie Taylor.
Glen is a petty, self-absorbed tyrant. His persona is wonderfully drawn, shown through the myriad ways he controls Jeanie and his failure to accept responsibility for his actions. Everything is someone else's fault, never his. (Don't we all know people like that?!) He attributes his dismissal from his bank job to his boss's jealousy rather than his unsatisfactory performance. When he's put on trial, he bills himself as a victim of police harassment. According to him, his obsession with child pornography is a medical condition for which he needs help. Not, of course, a sign of his warped nature, one that he keeps well-hidden. Here is a man who is outwardly unremarkable, yet, as the book asks, is he also a paedophile and a murderer? And is Jeanie complicit in his misdeeds?
The domineering Glen is mostly seen through the recollections of his down-trodden wife, who is a masterpiece of characterisation, expertly portrayed though subtle nuances. Jeanie adores her husband at first but her love fades as she realises the kind of man she has married. It's not long, though, before the reader starts to feel she may be hiding her own dark side. In addition, she might know more about Bella Elliott's disappearance than she's revealing.
The only flaw, for me, was that she comes across as older than her age, which jars at times. This may be deliberate, to emphasise Jean's unworldliness, but if so, I think it's overdone. It's not just that her name would be more appropriate for an older woman. At times Jean behaves like a stereotypical pensioner, so much so that when the narrative refers to her as being thirty-seven, it comes as a shock. Well, to me, anyway.
An impressive debut novel
As a foil to Glen and Jeanie, the other central characters of journalist Kate Waters and DI Bob Sparkes are more crudely drawn. Sparkes is almost like a caricature of a detective inspector, and his scenes didn't come alive for me. Kate is a more convincing character, although hard to like. Ruthless in pursuit of a scoop for her newspaper, she's hard as nails despite the caring persona she projects. The descriptions of unsavoury press behaviour are hard to stomach, as they frequently descend into harassment and trial by media. Fiona Barton used to be a journalist, so the antics she depicts are presumably realistic, yet in my view they're abhorrent.
Those wanting thrills a minute and a high body count may be disappointed by this book. The story focuses more on Jeanie's character development rather than delivering a plot rollercoaster. There are no twists as such - the ending is fairly obvious from early on - and few startling revelations. That's not the strength of this novel. The interest lies more in the reader exploring every nook and cranny of Jeanie's mind, in understanding why she gradually turns against her husband during the course of her marriage. As a first novel, it's impressive, and I look forward to reading more from this author.
Fiona Barton is a former journalist who has worked for the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. In the latter role she won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards. She gave up her job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and has worked with exiled journalists all over the globe. The idea for 'The Widow' came from time spent during her journalistic career covering famous trials. Fiona began to wonder what the wives of the accused knew or allowed themselves to know about the crimes in question. Fiona lives with her husband in rural France and has written several other novels. You can find out more at her website: http://fionabartonauthor.com/
This week I'm delighted to welcome novelist Karen Long to my blog. Karen Long is a Midlander by birth and now lives in Shropshire. She took up full-time writing many years ago and dedicates her days to writing crime fiction and observing nature. Her first novel, 'The Safe Word', reached the Amazon bestsellers' list and has now been followed by the second and third in the Eleanor Raven series, 'The Vault' and 'The Cold Room'.
It's great to have you here, Karen, so let's get started! Here's my first question:
Will there be a set number of books in the Eleanor Raven series? If so, how many?
It was always my intention to create a series of three novels that were linked thematically. The series takes place over the span of eighteen months and shares the same cast of characters and place but deals with a separate central story. All three books have now been published. I don’t intend to drop the Eleanor Raven character but have no plans for book four any time soon.
Do you share any character traits with DI Eleanor Raven?
Ah, that’s difficult. It would be disingenuous to suggest that there aren’t some aspects of the characters I create buried within my psyche. I don’t think I feel the anger, or the self-loathing that Eleanor Raven does but I like my independence and feel more comfortable alone than in company. Like Eleanor I am not religious but have an innate need for redemption. I believe most writers amplify their own characteristics when creating; how else can you achieve authenticity?
Do you see yourself writing in other genres besides crime fiction? If so, which ones, and what attracts you to them?
I like historical fiction and would love to write one but feel a little overawed by the amount of research I’d need to do. I suspect any story would have to be combined with a good murder plot, as I have little leaning towards romance. I have copy of a YA fantasy novel set in Victorian London, which is tucked away in my desk drawer. Every now and then I pull it out with the intention of self- publishing but never quite commit.
What’s a typical writing day like for you? Routines, that kind of thing?
I am not, in any way, organised as to a writing routine. I harbour a deep sense of guilt regarding my glacial output but have to be completely distraction free. I have an office but like to write in the conservatory, which has a great view of the numerous birdfeeders. Generally, I do write every day and it tends to be late morning into afternoon.
How long does it take you to write the first draft of a novel? Are you a plotter, a pantser or somewhere in between?
It takes me about seven months to get a first draft completed, and then another couple to complete the second and third drafts. I am not a deadline sort of person, I’m way too vague and unfocussed. I used to write copious notes but found they didn’t really help with plotting. Now I just keep mental images of actions and storylines.
What issues have you faced with research and accuracy with setting your books in a different country?
It’s very liberating to set your novels in a different environment because it can be moulded into the vision of a cityscape that responds to your plot. That’s not to say that I am lazy with place or time. I always check distances and environments with virtual maps, and read about places from as many sources as possible. I do have a working knowledge of the detailed landscapes and buildings that feature in the novels. However, it is because I am not native to Toronto that I have been able to create a vision from the flavours I experienced. It’s not accurate but then I’m writing fiction, not a travel guide.
What do you do to relax after a hard day’s writing?
Running, reading and a couple of glasses of wine.
Tell us about the rescue work you do with injured and distressed birds.
I’m a huge bird fan, particularly of the crow family. I used to have an aviary filled with rooks, magpies, crows and jackdaws, all in various stages of decrepitude but sadly we no longer have any left. Every spring I manage to look after and release a few babies that didn’t quite make their first flight a success. I’ve kept ravens, which are wonderful. All have deliciously dangerous and cantankerous personalities but the mayhem and home destruction can be very alarming and expensive. There are few things more delightful than having a clever wild bird sit on your shoulder and share a biscuit.
Thank you, Karen! It's been great talking to you.