Archive for the police procedural Category

Working your way up the foodchain: Michael Stanley talk about the slow process of becoming established writers

Posted in African fiction, crime fiction, international crime fiction, interview, police procedural, South Africa, South African writers, US writers, whodunit, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Michael StanleyI first met the writing duo Stanley Trollip and Michael Sears – who together form the nom de plume Michael Stanley – at the CapeTown Bookfair in June 2008, when Deon Meyer made sure to introduce the two authors to the South African literary scene. By the end of the year, two regular guys sitting in the crowd attentatively listening to the crime fiction discussions, were suddenly hot news: they’d hit the LA Times’ pick of the best ten crime novels of the year, were nominated for the Macavity Award, the Strand Magazine Critics’ Award and were finalists in the Minnesota Book Awards.

What makes these two authors stand out is not the fact that they’ve written a series that is set in Botswana, like Alexander McCall-Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. No, I suspect Michael Stanley sniffed a change in the wind and produced an undeniably fresh series that is as much fun as it is serious – a take on crime fiction that’s sorely needed as our collective psyche becomes exhausted with the moral fug that’s hung over us since September 9/11. There’s an intense focus on Detective Kubu and his circle of friends and colleagues, an attention to detail when it comes to Botswana that renders Michael Stanley’s work real rather than pastoral.

Richard Kunzmann: For those of us who don’t yet know who you are and how you came about such a highly likeable character as Detective Kubu, give us your summarised back story (and that of Kubu!)

Michael Stanley: Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. We’re both retired professors who have worked in academia and business. Michael is a mathematician, specializing in geological remote sensing. Stanley is an educational psychologist, specializing in the application of computers to teaching and learning, and a
pilot. We were both born in South Africa.

a-carrion-deathBecause we are both academics, our original intention in A Carrion Death was to have the ecologist as the protagonist. But we needed a policeman to run the formal investigation. And Kubu seemed to come fully created as though he was there waiting. His nickname is Kubu because of his size – “kubu” being the Setswana word for hippopotamus. Hippos in the wild spend most of the day in pools or rivers, with only their eyes and ears out of the water. They look deceptively docile, belying the fact that they kill more people in Africa than any other animal, trampling whatever lies between them and their objective. So with Kubu. On the surface he appears harmless; a convivial man with a sly sense of humor, who loves his wife, who is passionate about wine and music. But Kubu is a capable, wily policeman determined to rid Botswana of crime and corruption, no matter what gets in his way.Detective 'Kubu' Bengu's namesake

Richard Kunzmann: Both of you must have a deep love for Botswana. How did that come about?

Michael Stanley:When Stanley lived in the USA, he’d go back to South Africa every year to see family and friends. Being a private pilot, he would rent a small plane, fill it with friends, food, and wine, and head off to Botswana or Zimbabwe to watch game or birds. Michael was always one of the passengers on these trips. Over the years we had so many wonderful times in the Okavango or in the Chobe National Park that we fell in love with the country.

Richard Kunzmann: Diamond and drug smuggling are the core themes of your first and second novels. Are these issues close to your hearts or are they a serious affliction in Botswana?

Michael Stanley:Michael worked for ten years for Anglo American, a very large mining house originally based in South Africa. It is a major shareholder in De Beers, which dominates the world diamond market. And of course Botswana has the two richest diamond mines in the world, Orapa and Jwaneng, owned by Debswana, a joint venture between De Beers and the Botswana government. So it was an easy decision for us, as we planned our first mystery, to incorporate diamonds into the story. Once there were diamonds, it was a small step to think about how they might be used illicitly, so we came up with a strategy that would make several of our characters immensely wealthy if the plan succeeded. In reality, diamonds are well controlled in Botswana and there is minimal impact from “blood diamonds” as far as we know.

With respect to the drug trade, Botswana is one of the conduits into South Africa, so it is impossible to ignore. Obviously it is a source of great concern in Botswana, and since our protagonist works for the police, it is of concern for him too.

A Deadly TradeRichard Kunzmann: What struck me most about A Deadly Trade was Goodluck Tinubu’s back story, and the personal tragedy of Zimbabwe as evoked by the different characters. It’s almost as if someone had those tragic tales to tell you….

Michael Stanley: The tragedy of Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe is so stark that it didn’t need a real person to provide the details and pathos. We both know Zimbabweans, black and white. Listening to their stories, coupled with the bombardment of news, made it easy to create a story of personal tragedies and disappointment.

Richard Kunzmann: I thought A Deadly Trade was a lot tighter and leaner than A Carrion Death. How have the two of you developed as writers since your successful debut?

Michael Stanley: When we started A Carrion Death, we had no idea what we were doing. Neither of us had written fiction before, nor had we written together. So the process was slow as we tried to figure out issues of plot and character, as well as how to share the responsibilities of writing, and remain friends. It took us three years to finish the first book.

For A Deadly Trade, we were better organized. We had a good outline of the plot before we started writing. We had learnt a great deal about making our writing more concise and leaner, so it took less time to produce a better draft. We had also refined the way the two of us interact, making the overall process more efficient. A Deadly Trade took about 20 months to complete. There is no doubt that we still have a lot to learn, and we hope we can improve the quality yet again in our third book.

Richard Kunzmann: A writer duo is still an unusual thing to me. How do you work together? Can you shortly take us through the process? What’s easy about it? What’s difficult?

Michael Stanley: We’ve developed a strategy which we think works quite well. Upfront, we work out a map of the plot, a synopsis, and the timelines. We try to get together to do that, and it takes a considerable amount of time. After that, it seems there are usually areas where one of us has a particular interest or a mental picture of what’s going to happen. He’ll write a first draft, and that is the starting point for multiple iterations. Often we will each be working on a different section of the book. This phase we can do by email interspersed with long internet telephone conversations. Eventually we go through each section independently to make sure it’s smooth, stylistically coherent, and that the characters’ behaviors are consistent from one place to another. Perhaps surprisingly it seems to work. Most people can’t discern any changes of style as they read.

Communication is easy thanks to the internet, and sometimes when Stanley is in North America and Michael is in South Africa the time change allows twenty-four hour writing!

Of course, sometimes understanding why the other person doesn’t like a piece is hard. It’s so clear to the original writer! But if one of us is having difficulty with a sentence, chances are that many readers will also. So we listen to each other very carefully.

Sometimes our schedules and priorities don’t match, and that can be frustrating.

Overall, we think that writing together is slower than writing alone, but the benefits of having an immediate, interested reader and someone with whom to brainstorm far outweighs the drawbacks.

Richard Kunzmann: How much of your success would you attribute to the book and old-fashioned marketing legwork?

Michael Stanley: When we started writing we told ourselves that if the books did not succeed it should be because they were not good rather than not known. For A Carrion Death, we received little financial support from our US publisher, which is typical these days. Publishers spend almost all their promotional budget on big names. The US is such a gigantic market (about 150,000 books published in 2008, and about 7000 mysteries) that if the author does nothing, nobody will get to know about the book. Certainly our publisher sent out review copies to reviewers at newspapers and magazines, which was a great help. We suspect that the fact we were reviewed at all was because our book was set in a part of the world that is exotic to most reviewers. And perhaps because of the success of Alexander McCall Smith. The great reviews were because they liked the book.

We wanted a broader profile than the reviews alone. So we put up a website for people to visit (www.detectivekubu.com). We wrote pieces for blogs, magazines, and newspapers. We visited a few bookstores and did events, and attended a few conventions, like Bouchercon. And to people who signed up on our website, we sent an occasional newsletter bringing them up to date on the progress of the next book, as well as about our travels.

So to answer your question, old-fashioned legwork is necessary for most new writers. Only a very few succeed without it. However without a book that people like, marketing will help very little.

Richard Kunzmann: Where do you see your series going? What’s coming next?

Michael Stanley: We are currently working on our third book. A Carrion Death is set in the dry Central Kalahari. Most of the action in A Deadly Trade takes place in the lush riverine forests of the Linyanti in northern Botswana, and in the third mystery we are sending Detective Kubu south west to Tsabong and areas around the Khalagadi Transfrontier National Park.

Bushmen SanThe back story of the third book is the conflict between the Bushmen (or San) and the government. This is a conflict that has reached the courts several times in several guises. In a landmark case a couple of years ago, the Botswana Supreme Court ruled that the government could not relocate some Bushmen from the Central Kalahari National Park to settlements outside. Of course the real issue is how nomadic people, who do not believe in land ownership, live in a world of private property, farms and fences. And what is the responsibility of the government to provide education and shelter to people who don’t want to stay in one place? At an even deeper level, society has to address the issue of whether it has a responsibility to preserve cultures such as that of the Bushmen, and if the answer is in the affirmative, how it does that.

Richard Kunzmann: Are translations on the horizon?

Michael Stanley: With respect to A Carrion Death, as of now we have an Italian edition (Il detective Kubu) in print. The French edition (Un festin de hyènes – a feast of hyenas) will be released in September. And a German edition is scheduled for 2010. We have sold the rights to A Deadly Trade to the French and German publishers.

Richard Kunzmann: Can you tell us what are the five most important things you’ve learnt as writers?

Michael Stanley:
1) When you become overly fond of a piece of writing, it probably should be cut.
2) Leave a lot to the reader’s imagination.
3) Believe in your characters. They will push back at you if you try to take them places they don’t want to go.
4) Readers care more about the characters than they do about the plot.
5) Editors tell you what’s wrong, not how to fix it!

Richard Kunzmann: What are the five biggest challenges you’ve faced?

Michael Stanley:
1) Getting to grips with a coherent plot that allows flexible development but avoids dead ends.
2) Letting the characters show themselves rather than telling the reader about them.
3) Getting the book complete in good shape within a given time frame (for the second book).
4) Learning how to market the book to agents, editors and readers.
5) Concentrating on the writing at the same time as doing the marketing!

Read reviews of A Carrion Death and A Deadly Trade

Barbara Nadel: Chatting about her newest books and the facts of writing

Posted in crime fiction, international crime fiction, interview, mystery, police procedural, UK writers, whodunit, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Istanbul 2I first met Barbara Nadel at last year’s Guildford Book Festival, when we sat down with Martyn Waites to discuss crime fiction set in exotic locations. Barbara Nadel is as entertaining as she’s interesting, and you’d never guess at the kind of travel she’s done to get her story. You see, having visited Turkey all her life, and speaking the language fluently, it comes as no surprise that this Londoner’s books are set in Istanbul. I can’t think of many crime writers who will actually travel into violence-torn areas like Eastern Turkey, where River of the Dead is set; we generally live comfortable lives safely ensconced in our studies, with nothing more dangerous in the room than Topsy the Dozing Cat. Yet, there she was, Barbara telling us about an area that’s rife with superstitions and snake-god worshippers, army tanks and Al-Qaeda insurgents sneaking over the border from Iraq. Her crime fiction is as fantastic as it’s authentic, and for this reason alone worth a read.

Here she tells us more about her two latest books, River of the Dead, featuring partners Çetin İkmen and Mehmet Süleyman, as well as Ashes to Ashes, another series she writes, set during the London Blitz and featuring batty old Francis Hancock.

Richard Kunzmann: You obviously love Turkey and are drawn back there time and again. Can you tell us why the country is so attractive to you, and why you ultimately set your first crime series there?

Barbara_NadelBarbara Nadel: Turkey is not an easy place to pin down. It is quirky and in lots of ways elusive. Working within a Turkish context is in many ways rather like trying to hold on to water. But that is what I like about it. Turkey is a rapidly evolving country with a long and very involved history and so every book that I write about it is the result of a lot of research. I end up with masses of information but it is just that richness that I love. I set my first crime series in Turkey for all the reasons above and also because at that time (the 1990’s) there were no modern crime mysteries set in that country. I very much wanted to bring a place that I love and which inspires me to a wider audience.

Richard Kunzmann: How do you go about researching the books set in Istanbul?

Barbara Nadel: I visit at least twice a year; I read all the latest literature and journalism from both inside and outside Turkey; and I am in close contact with friends and colleagues based in the country. That said, inspiration for the topic of each novel can come from just about anywhere.

Richard Kunzmann: There must be difficulties in writing stories not set in the country in which you live…

Barbara Nadel: Of course because I’m not in Turkey every day, I do miss things. But a lot of novelists write about places where they do not live. Michael Moorcock for instance, continues to write about London even though he now resides in Texas. Of course one has to keep abreast of developments within a country and visit often, but there is also a ‘Turkey of the mind’, a place I carry with me all the time. This ‘mind country’ is the result of many years of contact with the place, its people and its myths.

Richard Kunzmann: How do you marry a story that is essentially Turkish with a language and style that is uniquely British?

Barbara Nadel: Although I work in English I do try to translate at least the feeling of the Turkish context. Some characters are more traditional than others and pepper their speech with religious sayings and/or ancient forms of address. People do this and it is something I try to reflect when I can. However one has to be aware of pace and so I can’t overload the text with such artefacts even though sometimes my idea about a character may include a lot of them. In addition, some of my books, namely river of the dead involve characters for whom Turkish isn’t the first language. In that novel we have people speaking Arabic, Aramaic and the Kurdish dialect, Zaza. These are all, and have to be in this case, expressed in ‘English’.

River of the deadRichard Kunzmann: River of the Dead diverges somewhat from the other Ikmen books in that much of the action occurs outside of Istanbul. Can you tell us a bit more about Mardin, and why you decided to send Suleyman out that way?

Barbara Nadel: Mardin was a city I had never visited until 2007. In the far south east of the country it is a place that over the years has suffered much from being on the front line of the dispute between the Kurdish separatists, the PKK, and the Turkish armed forces. From time to time the city has been effectively closed to outsiders because of fears about security. So Mardin is not always easy. It is however mythic. For more years than I care to remember, I’d been hearing stories about Mardin – the city of vast honey-coloured mansions, of Syrian monasteries from the fifth century, of snakes and the pagan snake goddess that must be appeased in order to keep the serpents away. So in 2007 I went and found that all the myths were true. I was fortunate enough to spend Easter with the Syrian Christians where I found myself in company with monks, clock makers and a very old lady who specialised in primitive religious art-work. The snake goddess I discovered was called the Sharmeran and, as I spent more time in the city, I saw her likeness everywhere. In the end my companions and me were speaking of her as if she were a real presence in our lives. But then Mardin, a city which rises above the Mesopotamian plain, the cradle of civilisation, is a place of miracles and of dreams. Much as İstanbul is mythical and divine, one does not get the ‘out of time’ feeling that is experienced in Mardin. I sent Mehmet Suleyman there because I wanted to see what would happen to a modern, pragmatic man in that context. I also wanted to explore some very modern issues that are currently impinging upon life in the east – international terrorism and drug trafficking. Mardin

Richard Kunzmann: The Çetin İkmen series has been a long and successful one. How do you feel it’s developed over time?

Barbara Nadel: I’ve tackled a lot of subjects over the years in the Çetin İkmen books. These have included sibling rivalry, isolation, the nature of visual art and the reality, or not, of occult practice. In recent years however I think that the subjects tackled have become bigger and more internationalist. Çetin İkmen and co move, from time to time, out of the city and in the next book, due to be published in 2010, out of the country. I feel that this reflects both Turkey’s move outwards as a society desirous of becoming part of the European Union, and the reality of crime as an international phenomenon that can not always be addressed on a local level.

Richard Kunzmann: The Francis Hancock series is relatively new and almost a complete flip of the coin to the Çetin İkmen series. How did you first conceive of the character?

Barbara Nadel: Francis is in many ways my paternal grandfather. Like Francis he was a World War 1 veteran who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder – or shellshock as they called it back then. Not that people were given any help with the fears, delusions and hallucinations that they suffered. My grandfather, like Francis, just had to carry on working, hiding how he was for much of the time, running from bombs during the Blitz. These books are, I hope, in part a tribute to all those veterans who just carried on with lives that were often a form of torture for them.

Ashes to AshesRichard Kunzmann: St Paul’s Cathedral, the centrepiece for Ashes to Ashes is a great locale for the story. What made you think up this particular novel and how did you go about researching it?

Barbara Nadel: Ashes to Ashes revolves around an incident known as the London Firestorm. This took place on the 29th December 1940 and it was Hitler’s attempt to burn London to the ground. In particular he wanted to destroy St Paul’s Cathedral because he knew how symbolically important it was (and remains) for Londoners. Again, my research proceeded from family anecdote. My maternal grandfather (yes, we are real Londoners!) was walking home from his place of work in Fleet St when the firestorm began. He just survived and his journey through falling buildings and across melting pavements has since passed into family legend. I also of course read extensively around the subject, spoke to those who remembered the incident and spent a lot of time in St Paul’s. Like Francis, I explored the upper galleries (Whispering Gallery, Stone Gallery) and also like him I felt my legs go to jelly as I climbed up hundreds and hundreds of stairs in what felt like every tightening spirals.

Richard Kunzmann: What in your mind are the key things a writer should have or develop?

Barbara Nadel:
1) A fund of stories, anecdotes and little facts and fictions upon which to draw.
2) The kind of curiosity about people, places and things that can potentially get you into trouble.
3) Patience. For most of us, getting published doesn’t happen overnight.
4) A sense of humour. If you have a sense of humour then some of your characters will have a sense of humour too and that is so real and so attractive too.
5) The kind of grit and determination to work at a book even when your muse is nowhere to be seen!

Richard Kunzmann: And the five things writers should avoid?

Barbara Nadel:
1) Not listening, not taking honestly given advice.
2) Writing work that is ‘all about me’. No, it’s all about your characters and the situation they find themselves in. They might be based upon real people or even your own life but ‘you’ have to disappear.
3) Waiting for your muse. He or she will never come unless you put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard.
4) Lack of curiosity. Deadly.
5) Being judgemental. Writers should be open in new situations. Judge only when you yourself have something to judge based upon your own experience.

Richard Kunzmann: Which authors have been your biggest influence and why?

Barbara Nadel: Lawrence Durrell has been the greatest influence upon me. He introduced me both to inventive fictional forms and the richness of character that can be possible. London writers Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair have also been inspirational. With regard to Turkey, I owe much to the work of Orhan Pamuk. All of these people get under the skin of whoever and whatever they tackle. I hope I get at least close to that.

The Barbara Nadel factfile:
Barbara Nadel was born in the East End of London and has worked as an actress, a public relations officer in the mental health services of the UK, and has taught psychology at schools and colleges.

She’s a CWA Silver Dagger winner for her book Deadly Web, and the author of more than 15 novels. Discover them at Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Barbara Nadel’s River of the Dead

Posted in crime fiction, international crime fiction, mystery, police procedural, review, UK writers, whodunit, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2009 by richardkunzmann

River of the deadThis book was my first visit to Istanbul, and I have to say I’m dying to go back and see the city again … only this time for real. Barbara Nadel does an exceptional job evoking its streets, the sights and sounds, the smells and textures, its denizens. When I finished reading this latest instalment in the Inspector Cetin Ikmen series, I had to remind myself that my memories of that city came from a book.

Isn’t that the best thing about reading, though?

Yusuf Kaya, a jailed psychopathic drug-dealer, has escaped from custody and left no witnesses alive. The jailbreak is a particularly heavy blow for Inspector Mehmet Suleyman, Ikmen’s trusty sidekick, as he was the one who first brought Kaya to book. Soon the investigation is torn in two: Ikmen continues to pursue leads in the capital, while Suleyman gives chase into the far eastern corners of Turkey, the wild tribal homeland of the powerful Kaya family, long known for their links to drugs and weapons smuggling. Istanbul

Ikmen and Suleyman are two detectives on the opposite ends of a spectrum: one is a chain-smoking father of a large Turkish family, an intuitive investigator whose mother was a well-known witch, while the latter is a straight-backed descendent of Ottoman princes, a calculating thinker married to a half-Irish woman. It’s a duality that probably works very well in other novels, but on this occasion they’re very much apart. Instead, Suleyman hooks up with Edibe Taner, who at first impresses us as a tough modern woman in a patriarchal world, but then it comes to light that she has links with an ancient snake-Goddess cult.

I struggled to find my way through many parts of this book because of the endless plot reversals that frustrated rather than intrigued me. Often our experienced detectives unnecessarily summarise for us what has come before, and then strangely take a direction that seems to clash with what they’ve just deduced from the evidence. Someone once said about red-herrings that they can only be called that when they’re obvious; in this novel there was a shoal of them. I also found it difficult to distinguish between the characters, because they all seemed to speak in the same voice – the dialogue is littered with language that seems more at home in a Hercule Poirot story than a modern gritty city like Istanbul, and the statement “but of course” emerged as a verbal tick of virtually every character. But let this not be a condemnation of Barbara Nadel’s work in general. Next week I’ll be reviewing her second novel for the year, Ashes to Ashes, which I found much more compelling, both for its setting and characters. Ashes to Ashes

River of the Dead truly takes flight when Barbara Nadel settles into her narrative. She takes us as easily through the backstreets and markets of a modern Istanbul, passed the mosques and churches that date back to Byzantine times, as she shows us the vast plains around Mardin, a place so steeped in history and mysticism that your heart aches to stand at the spot where Suleyman first sees that green landscape stretch out beneath him. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Scorpion clan that is Yusuf Kaya’s family, the snake-goddess worshipped by the locals, the jailed living saint – all of which is part of a Cob-webbed world that is grossly at odds with Suleyman’s digital age. The best part of this novel was Nadel’s understanding of the complex push and pull relationship between an ancient culture and a world of glass and plastic that tries to bury it.

Sweetheart: A book that’ll have you sweating in more ways than one

Posted in book, crime fiction, police procedural, review, serial killers, thriller, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Sweetheart“Can you feel that your spleen is gone? Does it hurt?”
“Not any more,” Archie answered.
“I think about that,” Gretchen said dreamily. “Having my hands inside you. You were so warm and sticky. I can still smell you, your blood. Do you remember?”
Archie ran a hand over his face. “I lost consciousness,” he reminded her quietly.
She smiled. “I regret that. I wanted to keep you awake. I wanted you to remember. I’m the only one who’s ever been that far inside you.”

These are exactly the lines I’ve come to expect from Chelsea Cain after meeting her and reading the Gretchen Lowell series a year later: funny, sensual and intense, all at the same time. Chelsea Cain’s books might lack thorough police investigations, and the serial killer they depict does stretch belief, but few other crime writers execute their work with such flair. In fact, if the series wasn’t the parody it is – and I’m talking a hefty touch of Quentin Tarrantino here – showing up all the oh-so serious monsters that litter the crime genre today, Chelsea Cain’s thrillers wouldn’t be as wisecracking good as they are.Chelsea Cain

Sweetheart follows Heartsick and delves into the aftermath of that obsessive love affair between Detective Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, the porcelain-skinned serial killer who very nearly tortured him to death. Our detective is finally out of hospital and back home with his wife and daughter. The scars are healing, his trusty sidekick Henry is keeping a close eye on him, and so things should be as rosy as that first flush after hot sex.

Except they’re not.

HeartsickArchie’s hitting the pills so hard his liver’s about to explode. He can’t look his wife in the eye because he’s too damn busy imagining sadistic sex with Gretchen. As for work … well, all of a sudden a fresh pile of bodies is appearing in Gretchen’s old dumping grounds. Just when we think Archie’s internal world can’t be wound any tighter than the noose he’s pulled around his own neck, Gretchen Lowell escapes from jail and shoots straight for his daughter.

Cain’s timing is on the money, whether it’s comic relief or closing a chapter on a real cliff hanger. Intercutting between the Gretchen Lowell escape and an investigation into the murder of a girl who could potentially finger a sleazy politician for statutory rape, the story keeps us flying downhill at breakneck speed. It’s fast-paced stuff, even if a few plot threads are left hanging, but my appreciation for the book has very little to do with any of that.

Central to the story is the seduction of Archie Sheridan by Gretchen Lowell. Despite the horrible trauma she’s inflicted on him, he can’t stop thinking about her. This is the kind of love story where you know the other person is bad for you, she’ll destroy your soul, but for some reason that’s exactly what you want. In other words, Gretchen is the ultimate succubus.

Layer after layer, Archie is wrapped in the soft velvet of a rapture he knows he won’t survive. Like Pauline Reagé’s O, he realises what’s happening to him, he can see the self-annihilation that lies ahead and yet he goes willingly. The master-slave allusion isn’t an unwitting one, but at times we don’t know who’s who, as Gretchen exposes vulnerabilities of her own. It’s Cain’s sensuous portrayal of this state of mind that is most gripping. As much as this story is a thriller, the taste that remains on your lips long after is not the violence and gore, but forbidden love.

Read this book to the sound of:
Alice Cooper – Poison
Lou Reed – This Magic Moment

Look out for Evil at Heart, the third book in the series, which will be released in September.

Giveaway:
Chelsea has offered to dedicate and sign a hardcover copy of Sweetheart for a giveaway. Leave a comment on the review or series and you’ll be entered into a raffle.

Interview with Chelsea Cain!

Evil at heartKeep your eyes open. I’ll be posting an interview with Chelsea Cain before the close of the week, talking about her books, her writing, and the highly anticipated Evil at Heart.

Check out what others think of the book at Goodreads and Amazon.

The Hard Graft: An Interview with Martina Cole

Posted in book, crime fiction, interview, mystery, police procedural, review, UK writers, whodunit, writing with tags , , , , , , , on May 30, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Martina ColeThere are many things you can call Martina Cole, arguably the queen of contemporary British crime fiction, but pretentious she is not. I believe first impressions last, and mine of Martina Cole could be summed up as follows: attractive, outgoing, down-to-earth, and oh so friendly.

Though Martina is the author of fifteen bestselling novels, she didn’t have an easy time growing up. Born in Essex in 1958, Martina was raised in an Irish Catholic family and educated at a strict convent school. Unhappy with the place, she left school with no qualifications. By the time she was nineteen she was crashing in a rundown, carpetless council flat, fending for herself and her new-born son. She knew early on what extreme poverty is and what it can make people do.

As we talk, the poverty of the English underclasses surfaces time and again. It’s a subject that deeply affects her and the protagonists of her books. In a husky voice, spiced with a strong east-ender accent, she says, ‘Our government keeps going on about a classless society, but it’s absolute crap. There is an underclass. So many people work hard, and do the best they can for their families, but they’re still poor. My son and me, we were quite hard up at a stage, and it was difficult at times, but I think it’s done us good to be hard up.’ I ask Martina how these hardships have affected her as an author. ‘It made me an independent person, and certainly I’m one of the few crime writers that’s actually lived in a council flat.’ She laughs, thinking about those times, an edge of relief in her voice despite the intervening years of success. ‘At the end of the day, I’d like people to know what it’s like to be poor, and to be faced with difficult choices. Being poor is nothing to be ashamed of. There was a point at which my life changed dramatically, but I reached that point by working very hard.’ Martina Cole 2

What attracted her to crime writing? ‘I didn’t start out specifically to write crime, but I ended up drawing a great deal from my background. I was also always interested in what goes through a criminal’s mind. I mean, what makes them do things, why do people commit crimes?’ One of her favourite characters is Magwitch in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, because he is a rogue, but essentially has a good heart. Great Expectations

‘There’s a human side to criminals that people tend to forget about. Cosy Crime just isn’t me.’ I ask her to elaborate. ‘Cosy Crime is the simple story of a detective who solves murders and hunts down this killer who is all bad. No one is ever all bad.’

Martina is clearly a person who tries to stay true to real events, real people and the community she was brought up in. For example, Martina used the experiences of a prostitute known to her as the basis of her novel Faceless. ‘True events do appear in my books, and I think it’s that sense of reality that keeps people reading.’ Martina Cole Faceless

It’s this respect she has for reality that has earned her much adoration from criminals, prisoners and police officers alike. She laughs out loud. ‘The funny thing is my books are some of those most frequently stolen from bookshops.’ The East End seems to identify closely with Martina and her novels, and the author reciprocates that relationship. She doesn’t just write about crime, she is regularly involved with creative writing workshops in prison rehabilitation programs. She wants to offer criminals an alternative. Says Martina, ‘Some of these people have never even picked up a book much less read it. I always say to them I’m one of the few people for whom crime actually does pay.’ Her laughter is easy, natural. ‘These people have so much time in jail, and I want to help them make the best of it.’ I wonder if some of these prisoners have had successes. ‘Yeah, definitely. A few have gone on to bigger things, but it’s difficult. Sometimes you work hard to build up a bond with some of them, and then they are abruptly transferred to another prison. It’s sad and difficult loosing someone that way, because what do they do next?’The Business

I ask her how writing has affected her personally. ‘It’s an odd life,’ she says, ‘especially for women. It’s not for everyone, because it’s lonely work. Other people can’t really join in, and feel pushed out all the time.’ It’s strange comparing this intensely private author with the sociable woman she is at parties. When she’s out, she’s always laughing, touching a shoulder here, an elbow there. She radiates interest in what you have to say, and who you are.

One thing is for certain about Martina Cole, and that is that she cares. After all, she’s been there, done the hard graft, and come out on top.

Watch a clip from the new TV series The Take, based on Martina Cole’s bestselling novel of the same name on Sky.

Find Martina Cole here:
website
Goodreads
Amazon

This interview originally appeared in The Citizen.

Review & Giveaway: Looking Good Dead, Peter James

Posted in book, crime fiction, police procedural, review, thriller, UK writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2009 by richardkunzmann

I don’t easily get creeped out by books these days. Not any more. Not since Stephen King’s It permanently damaged me as a child, when I was reading it under the bedcovers late at night, torch in one jittery hand, twice frightened that my mother would catch me in the forbidden act of reading “that author with evil in his head.”

Did you know, momma, what was in mine?

Looking Good DeadSo it’s been a while that I got the willies from a book, which makes me very glad that I picked up a copy of Peter James’s Looking Good Dead. It’s a brilliant thriller. Here’s why.

Tom Bryce, a regular Joe salesman, is sitting on the train from London to Brighton thinking about his wife and kids. And like anyone who’s ever had a standard class fair, he’s stranded next to a right prick yelling into his mobile phone. So when the guy gets off the train and leaves a CD behind, Tom’s not exactly in the mood to play Good Samaritan.

This is where we all collectively yell, “Why oh why, Tom, did ya have to take the CD home?”

That night our dear friend Tom watches a snuff movie. Then his computer is hacked and before long he’s running scared and fighting for the life of his wife and kids. Never mind his own.

At the same time, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called out to a gruesome discovery in a field on the same day that he’s got a hot date lined up. But what he finds out there opens up old wounds; his own wife disappeared many years ago, and since then he’s forever been wondering what happened to her and blaming himself.

This is a superb thriller in every sense of the word. Peter James drops us right into the households of every day people. He shows us that they also read the Gruffalo to their kids, watch the Simpsons, and then he tears them to shreds, and we’re left wondering exactly who this bastard is. Peter James 2James also has a great sense of place, constantly feeding us information about Brighton without overpowering us with needless description. In fact, everything about his writing is precise and to the point. He is as efficient a writer as he is a killer of characters, is Mr James.

I wish I could stop with the laurels there, but his research and deep understanding of the Brighton Metropolitan Police shines through, especially in his treatment of cyber crime and modern technologies. Here’s another great detail: I love looking out for how authors tie their novels back to the titles. In Peter James’s case, when the words “Looking Good Dead” are spoken, you don’t know if you want to laugh or slam the book shut and run.

A well-rounded novel this: great characters, great plotting, and a story that could become all too real. I’m going to commit sacrilege in the crime-reading world and say I enjoyed this book more than Michael Connelly’s The Poet.

Just do me a favour: don’t read this under the bedcovers with a torch.

Give Away
I have one signed copy of the new hardback Dead Tomorrow up for grabs. It’ll be released 11 June 2009, so you’ve got until then to share your thoughts on Peter’s writing. The winner will be drawn from a raffle. Dead Tomorrow

Some fast facts about Peter James:
He’s incredibly rich and loves showing off the cars he’s owned while still remaining a genuinely nice guy. He didn’t just get that way through hard work on his many bestselling books, he’s also a successful filmmaker, producing amongst others The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino.

Read other reviews at Amazon and Goodreads.

Best read to the music of Joe Cocker

Review: A Deadly Trade, Michael Stanley

Posted in African fiction, book, crime fiction, international crime fiction, mystery, police procedural, review, South Africa, South African writers, thriller, whodunit, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Michael StanleyA week ago I reviewed A Carrion Death, written by Michael Stanley (the pen name of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip). Not only was it a strong first attempt at a crime novel set in an exotic setting, it was also a sheer act of determination and personal marketing that eventually saw the book break through to the LA Times bestseller.

A Deadly TradeWith A Deadly Trade, they are back and with a vengeance, too. This second book is tighter, leaner and more focused than the first. Michael Stanley is well on his way to establishing himself on the international crime thriller scene.

A man is walking back to his tent one night, at a remote resort deep in the heart o the Okovango Delta, when he’s brutally killed and mutilated. When dawn comes a second body is discovered and a third man is missing. The Botswana police have to fly into the remote area, and our hero Detective Superintendent Kubu Bengu and his new sidekick, Detective Tatwa Mooka, quickly establish that the two murdered individuals, and the prime suspect who was unsuspectingly taken to the airport that same morning, have links to the political turmoil in Zimbabwe and a drug smuggling ring in South Africa.

What is not immediately established is that all the guests at Jackalberry Camp on the night of the murders are very much involved, in one way or another. Though this hints at an Agathie Christie style investigation, there’s plenty of action in store.

Kubu Bengu is his usual likeable self, drinking a steelworks whenever the moment arises, or daintily dipping a Marie biscuit into his tea. And I’m glad to see that Ian McGregor has shed the staccato Scottish accent from the first novel, which was jarring to read. Two new characters stand out as fine examples of well-developed characterisation: Goodluck Tinubu, the well-loved teacher with a dark past, and Moremi Suthani, the eccentric chef with a Kwe bird on his shoulder. Dupie, the camp manager and a former Sealous Scout from Zimbabwe’s civil war past, also rings with authenticity.

The second novel is an improvement on the first, but some of my concerns from the first novel have remained. Our police officers seem extraordinarily happy to discuss the finest particulars of a murder case with just about anyone willing to listen, which doesn’t jive with police procedure. Some chapters grind the story to a virtual halt because Kubu and his friends painstakingly recap events for us. I have to compare this with Peter James’s excellent Looking Good Dead, which I’ve just finished. Looking Good Dead Detective Roy Grace also frequently recaps, but this is either mentioned as a one liner, especially if he’s filling in others; or, if it’s for the reader’s benefit, sums the entire investigation up in no more than three lines. A bundle of pages is never a good idea. I’ve stepped on that mine myself, plenty of times. There are unnecessary tracks of exposition in two of my novels, Bloody Harvests and Salamander Cotton , of which readers have been far too forgiving.

I particularly enjoyed Kubu’s discovery of Goodluck Tinubu’s history, but I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say, there is true tragedy in his demise as a fallen hero, and Tinubu’s death seems a fitting waste of a human life – perhaps the perfect metaphor for the chaos in his home country, Zimbabwe.

Check out what others thought of A Deadly Trade at Goodreads .

Best music to read by: Miriam Makeba