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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Book review - Alibi

Joseph Kanon’s Alibi is set in 1946 Venice.  I’ve been to that fabled city and through his descriptions I saw it again, careworn through time, yet timeless.

American Adam Miller has left the US Army and is visiting his widow mother who has returned to Venice. He used to interrogate German war criminals but is now retired.

Kanon’s style sucks you into the first person narrative with ease, and all the while you're sensing with disquiet that something momentous is about to happen: in page 9 Adam meets the beguiling Claudia Grassini, who has an uncomfortable past and a reputation; and by page 24 they are lovers. His mother is going to marry Dr Gianni Maglione. Apparently, there’s a connection between Claudia and Gianni – involving her father’s death during the Nazi occupation – and this taints their relationship.

As the tagline – ‘Murder has its price – and so does the perfect alibi’ – and the blurb forewarn us there will be at least one murder, the reader is expecting it, and when it comes it’s grim stuff, realistic and brutal. Yet it doesn’t occur until page 146 (in a 400 page book). From that moment on, the tension builds, a cat-and-mouse affair with the local police and vying guilt and conscience. 

One review on the book cover calls this a thriller, but it doesn’t have the pace of a thriller. It’s more of a psychological suspense novel about morality, justice and insidious unexpected consequences.

A fine twist ending, too.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Take a letter

For a very long time some writers have indulged in writing novels in letter format – the epistolary novel, one of the most famous being Dracula. There are many many more, however. See here for an interesting insight.

If this form of fiction is of interest, then you should be intrigued by a series of posts featured in Miriam Drori's blog - the series is 'Letters from Elsewhere'.

Already there's a fascinating collection, all from fictional characters...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Worth reading twice!

Taking a few minutes off from writing to a couple of deadlines:

Today, just found a great 4-star Amazon UK review of The Tehran Text.

"I don't often read a book twice, and this one benefits from a second read as you can sort out the characters better and appreciate the quality of the writing. The book opens in fine dramatic style, with an assassination and more than a hint of psychic powers which quickly dominate the story of Tana Standish and her action-packed adventures in the middle east.

"The intricacies of the plot unfold in masterful manner and I don't want to put the book down as Standish wriggles out of one situation into another while playing mind games and trying to rescue her friends.

"I enjoyed the Foreword - an unusual and intriguing insight into the origin of the book..."

Thank you Jlbwye. It would be great to learn that a lot more people have read it once, let alone twice! I really appreciate this reviewer's dedication; a good review also appeared for The Prague Papers. Trouble is, I now have to get the next in the series finished - The Khyber Chronicle. As they say, every silver lining has a cloud, or something similar...

Friday, 12 February 2016

Great choice of character name!

In today’s newspaper I’ve just read a very favourable review of Mike Herron’s newest MI5 spy novel, Real Tigers, third in the 'Slough House' series, hot on the heels of his earlier two outings, Dead Lions and Slow Horses. And he's also a fellow Geordie, no less...

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I read that one of their spies, who is kidnapped, is named Catherine Standish!  Now, this just shows what a great choice of name Mr Herron has selected.

Reminds me of my own psychic spy character, Tana Standish, whose first two adventures in the 1970s can be found in The Prague Papers and The Tehran Text. And he’s also used Catherine, which is the name of my heroine in the 'Avenging Cat' series, viz Catalyst, Catacomb and Cataclysm – and usually she’s called Cat, which is doubly appropriate, since the series is published by Crooked Cat Publishing!

Catherine Standish. Yes, it has a certain ring to it.

May be worth looking up the above. Certainly, Mr Herron has gained an enviable number of reviews and kudos.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Pressure of work

I regret that I won't be posting as regularly as hitherto as pressure of work is demanding more time. I have a number of writing projects that are close to completion, and the publishers are waiting...

I must admit it's a good position to be in. 

So, please bear with me.

As the projects complete, I'll keep you informed.  In the meantime, please browse earlier posts.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Winning entries - Flash 500

Congratulations to the three winners in the latest Flash 500 competition.

They can be found (and read) here:

Monday, 8 February 2016

Exhumed - from today's news

Here's another instance where one of my stories echoes what is going on in the real world...

The story is 'Grave Concerns' and can be found in Spanish Eye, which this week is on special offer at Amazon!

Amazon UK - under 80p for kindle, £4.99 paperback

Amazon COM - $1.08 kindle, $6.99 paperback

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Book Review - The Tell-Tale Heart

Julian Symons’ ‘Life and works of Edgar Allan Poe’ was published in 1978; he wrote it because he was dissatisfied with existing biographies of Poe. He chose to break the book into two sections – Part One: The Life and Part Two: The Work. Poe produced ‘the most original prose fiction of the nineteenth century’ (p241).

Poe used his imagination a lot – even to the point of fabricating his origins, and stating that he was born in 1811 when in fact the date was 1809. He was born in Boston, his father abandoning the family in 1810; his mother died the following year and he was fostered by Frances and John Allan, a childless couple; they never adopted him. John Allan and Edgar were often at loggerheads, and in later years Edgar’s gambling debts and drinking became cause for heated arguments and eventual estrangement.

Edgar failed to apply himself to the rigours of the Army, eventually leaving West Point before he was thrown out. He was determined to earn his living as a writer – a precarious career that left him impecunious through most of his life. He married his first cousin Virginia Clemm in 1835 – he was 27, she was 13 though the documentation stated she was 21. Virginia’s mother, Maria Clemm (née Poe), lived with the couple. Their relationship has been debated over the years: was it ever sexual, or were they living virtually as brother and sister? It’s all supposition. Certainly, he adored her and she idolised him. He thought she was beautiful. ‘Beautiful women have little chance of survival in Poe. They are often seen both as the victims of men and as a cause of destruction.’ (p205)

Sadly, Virginia developed consumption and became so weak that Edgar would carry her to the dining table; she died after five years of illness in 1847, aged 24. Her death was a devastating blow to Edgar. Over the years he had indulged to excess in alcohol but recovered, even abstaining for lengthy periods, but now his depression led him to the bottle with a vengeance.

‘Poe is spelling out his personal agonies in fictional terms. The obsessions, which were accentuated but not caused by Virginia’s illness and death, were concerned with the supreme beauty of death, the association of pleasure and cruelty, the fascination of blood. He offers us in some respects the world of de Sade, but it is a sadism made acceptable to a mass readership by the elimination of any ostensible sexual element.’ (p210)

In 1849, Poe went missing for five days and was found walking delirious in Baltimore, wearing clothes other than his own; he died in hospital a few days later. Since then all hospital records, including his death certificate, have been lost.

Writing articles and criticism, the journalist Poe had to move about the country to obtain work. He was also an editor at times. He barely managed to keep the wolf from the door. For example, his story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ was printed in The Pioneer magazine and he was paid the princely sum of $10 for it. Maria helped the family finances when she could, sometimes by teaching. He was naturally pleased to win $100 for his story ‘The Gold-Bug’, offered by the Dollar Newspaper (1843).

He sold a hoax story to the Sun newspaper; it concerned a balloon crossing of the Atlantic, and its publication caused a great deal of interest and excitement; not until Orson Welles transmitted the radio play ‘War of the Worlds’ would a hoax story have such a widespread effect.

What made his hoax stories believable was the acute observational detail he brought to his work. His The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is his longest prose fiction and W.H. Auden believed it to be ‘one of the finest adventure stories ever written’.

‘I have… rambled and dreamed away whole months, and awake at last to a sort of mania composition. Then I scribble all day, and read all night, so long as the disease endures.’ (p93)

Symons believes Poe was the first great American literary critic, because Poe found a balance between romantic perceptiveness and idealism with a vein of severe common sense. However, Poe the critic accused other poets and writers of plagiarism, but indulged in it himself. He castigated certain authors in his critical essays, which were deemed ‘intelligent and prejudiced’, and thereby made a number of enemies in the literary fraternity. Sometimes his vitriolic criticism was anonymous, though many guessed at the author. Yet several of his targets seemed to forgive him, acknowledging his genius. One writer he upset was editor and compiler, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, yet Poe appointed this man as his executor. Griswold then proceeded to destroy Poe’s reputation and by his death in 1857 he seemed to have achieved his aim. W.H Auden has said, ‘That one man should dislike another and speak maliciously of him after his death would be natural enough, but to take so much trouble, to blacken a reputation so subtly, presupposes a sustained hatred which is always fascinating, because the capacity for sustained emotion of any kind is rare.’ (p161) Certainly, this distasteful trait is still prevalent in academia, and even in online reviews – ‘sock puppets spring to mind’.  Symons goes on to apprise us of a number of critical views, one of them concluding: ‘the lowest abyss of moral imbecility and disrepute had not been reached until Poe was born.’  Despite all these nay-sayers, interest in Poe’s work never flagged. And of course he lives in his work while his jaundiced detractors are forgotten and are but dust.

Not without reason, Poe is considered the father of detective fiction with his character Dupin. Yes, before his crime stories detectives did feature in stories, but they did not do any detecting, or use logic, for example the first instance of the marks made by a rifle barrel being used as a clue in solving a crime. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, ‘Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?’

‘Poe’s complaint that the author may give the reader false information through the mouth of a character, but must not do so in his own person [that is the narrative], was a forerunner of the detective story reader’s insistence on “fair play”.’(p185, addition in my italics)

His influence on the detective story has been long recognised: ‘On this narrow path the writer must walk, and he sees the footmarks of Poe always in front of him,’ said Conan Doyle. ‘He is happy if he ever finds the means of breaking away and striking out on some little side-track of his own.’

Symons observes that ‘more than half of Poe’s seventy stories are very little read, except by literary critics and honours students. His reputation as a short story writer rests upon some twenty tales which are famous throughout the world. Apart from the four tales of detection, they are all horrific.’ (210) He concludes concerning the horror stories, ‘There is nothing else like them in Western literature.’

Friday, 5 February 2016

Detect a good offer!

If your reading preference is for crime, then this week’s Kindle offer from Crooked Cat Publishing is well worth considering.

There are three detective fiction books being promoted this week.

1) Bad Moon Rising
By Frances di Plino

This is the first in the DI Paolo Storey crime series. ‘Tense, fast-paced and gripping’. No less than 41 reviews on Amazon UK.

One more soul is safe. Brought up believing sex is the devil’s work, a killer only finds release once he has saved his victims’ souls. Abiding by his vision, he marks them as his. A gift to guide his chosen ones on the rightful path to redemption. Detective Inspector Paolo Storey is out to stop him, but Paolo has problems of his own. Hunting down the killer as the death toll rises, the lines soon blur between Paolo’s personal and professional lives.

The D.I. Paolo Storey Crime Series:
Bad Moon Rising
Someday Never Comes
Call It Pretending
Looking For A Reason

2) A Limited Justice
By Catriona King

This is the first in the DCI Marc Craig series, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
With 29 Amazon reviews.

When a body is discovered at a petrol station, Belfast D.C.I. Marc Craig is called to investigate. Within a day, a second body is found. Then a third. This time, it’s personal. It’s someone he knows. With time against him, Craig desperately tries to piece the case together, but will he find the suspect before anyone else is killed?

DCI Marc Craig series
A Limited Justice
The Grass Tattoo
The Visitor
The Waiting Room
The Broken Shore
The Slowest Cut
The Coercion Key
The Careless Word
The History Suite

3) Spanish Eye
By Nik Morton

Featuring 22 cases from Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish Private Eye, ‘in his own words’. 

Through the eyes of Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private investigator, we experience the human condition in many guises. This collection covers twenty two cases, some insightful, some humorous, and some tragic. The tales evoke tears and laughter, pleasure at the downfall of criminals, and anger at arrogant evil-doers. Overall, Morton’s deceptive easy-flowing style confirms universal values.

Sometimes, Cazador operates in disguise under several aliases, among them Carlos Ortiz Santos, a modern day Simon Templar; he is wholly against the ungodly and tries to hold back the encroaching night of unreason.

Cazador translated into English means hunter. In his adventurous life he has witnessed many travesties of justice; he is a man driven to hunt down felons of all kinds, to redress the balance of good against evil.

He combats drug-traffickers, grave robbers, al-Qaeda infiltrators, misguided terrorists and conmen. Dodgy Spanish developers and shady expat English face his wrath. Traders in human beings, stolen vehicles and endangered species meet their match. Kidnappers, crooked mayors and conniving Lotharios come within his orbit of ire.

“Prickly Pair” amusingly depicts a married couple who appear to serve others while merely serving themselves. “Night Fishing” is a sympathetic examination of a fisherman who risks all by bending the rules to give his blind wife Lucia a special gift. “Cry Wolf” illustrates that not everything is what it seems. “Off Plan” and “Lonely Hearts” are about folks guilty only of trust. “Grave Concerns” poignantly presents a terrible moral dilemma for a father and his daughter. “Pueblo Pride” is more about what the villagers may lose rather than what they can give. “Gone Missing” is an intriguing day-in-the-life tale, while “Inn Time” is a heartfelt plea for peace.

Leon Cazador fights injustice in all its forms and often metes out his own rough justice. It’s what he does.

Only 8 Amazon reviews?
‘…I experienced a myriad of emotions. I laughed, cried, and became incensed. I cheered and clapped, but most of all I felt a confirmation of universal values.’ – Elizabeth Sullivan, author

Spanish Eye is a marvellous collection of short stories linked by a common protagonist, the private investigator Leon Cazador. Yet, each story is unique in setting and plot, drawing on the author's remarkable breadth of knowledge and extraordinarily full life, spiced by a genuine loathing for evil and wrong-doing. We learn a great deal about the history, culture, lore, and landscape of Spain and meet a diverse cast of characters, as Cazador sees to it that a variety of miscreants, petty and grand, are appropriately done in. Mr. Morton is a gifted writer, a modern-day Aesop, only more complex, providing entertaining stories, each with a moral. You have no idea of the treat that is in store for you.’ – Charles D Ameringer, professor emeritus of Latin American history at Penn State University, author.