Daily Ponder: Remembering … Columbo

English: Peter Falk as "Columbo".

English: Peter Falk as “Columbo”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday I got one of those emails from Amazon telling me about the great deals they’re doing on TV box sets.

Now I have to admit, I watch a lot of box sets, well, box sets and films.  That’s because I don’t watch programmed TV.  In fact, the TV isn’t connected to an aerial at all.  So if I watch a programme it’s on box set, and I’ve bought that box set on a trusted recommendation.

Anyway, the Amazon email was about retro crime series, and the first on the list was the full box set of Columbo (played by Peter Falk).

Wow, that took me back.  I used to love watching Columbo re-runs when I was a kid.  It was out-dated even then, but there was something about the seemingly bumbling, but oh-so-sharp detective that always had me hooked.

With his unassuming manner, he was rather like a less smug version of Poirot.  And his characteristic, ‘one last thing,’ style has inspired many a more recent character.  To name one, I personally think there are quite a few similarities between Columbo and Patrick Jane in The Mentalist.

And, of course, Columbo was a pioneer of the Detective-in-a-Mac look – a personal favourite of mine!

So maybe I might just order that box set.

Have you been inspired to write by any TV characters?

The Affair by Lee Child

A sizzling-hot thriller with enough twists to keep you guessing to the end

“March 1997.  A woman has her throat cut behind a bar in Carter Crossing, Mississippi.  Just down the road is a big army base.  Is the murderer a local guy – or is he a soldier?

Jack Reacher, still a major in the military police, is sent in undercover.  The country sheriff is a former US Marine – and a stunningly beautiful woman.  Her investigation is going nowhere.  Is the Pentagon stonewalling her? Or doesn’t she really want to find the killer?”

The story features a Jack Reacher who’s still employed by the army, and is set six months before the opening of The Killing Floor.  He’s still the Reacher fans of the series know and love, but he’s a little younger, a little less savvy of military politics, and perhaps (even) more of a Romeo than we’ve seen before.

To me this story is very much a modern day western.  There’s a town full of uneasy tension: where locals rely on the army base trade to keep the dollars flowing their way and keep their businesses alive, but harbour simmering resentment against them.  Reacher, as always, plays the inquisitive outsider to perfection. This story marks the beginning of the end for his military career.

It’s hard to write a review of this book without including a spoiler, but it’s a fast paced read with enough curve balls and misdirection thrown at Reacher to keep you hanging on right to the end.  While the story is just as strong as previous books, and Reacher is no less willing to fight (literally) for what he believes is right, personally I found it gave a little more time to a romantic encounter sub-plot than in the majority of other books in the series.  And this certainly added an additional fizz to the experience!

Okay, so you’ve probably guessed, I’m a bit of a Lee Child fan.  Even so, I rate this book as one of the best in the series.  Whether you’re a devoted regular, or a newcomer to the Jack Reacher series, I think you’ll find it a great read.

Highly recommended.

Ps.  The film JACK REACHER, based on Lee Child’s book ONE SHOT and staring Tom Cruise as Reacher is due for release in December 2012.  You can find out more at http://www.leechild.com/

Today I’ve been moonlighting over on the Nomad Novelist Writers Group blog. Instead of my usual crime fiction, I’ve been finding out all about the awesome Space Captain Smith series and author Toby Frost …

NOMAD Novelist Writers Group

To our blog this week, I’m delighted to welcome Toby Frost, the comic mastermind behind the fabulous Space Captain Smith series. 

So Toby, how did you first get the idea for the Space Captain Smith series?

It came from an email conversation with a friend of mine who was reading H.G. Wells at the time. I remember thinking that it would be entertaining to have Victorians landing on other planets and demanding gin and tea from the bemused inhabitants, and it all came from there. I already had a vague idea for Suruk the Slayer, and Polly Carveth was a good foil for both him and Smith. The other creatures of the Smith world seem to write themselves. Shortly afterwards, during a holiday in Cornwall, I awoke from a cider-fuelled dream muttering about constructing “the moon-ship”. After that, I just had to write the thing.

What does an average writing…

View original post 992 more words

Writing Prompts: “A Great Place for Murder”


English: The Old Land Port

English: The Old Land Port (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other week, along with several of my writing friends from The Nomad Novelist Writers Group, I joined a walking tour of Dickens’ Portsmouth.  It was a fabulous tour, fill of great little insights into the life and world of Dickens.  But the thing I got most from the tour was the opportunity to have a good look around Portsmouth’s nooks and crannies.

A fellow writer had set his recently completed dark thriller in the city.  I was a beta reader of his first draft, and as we walked he gleefully pointed out all the locations that had featured in the novel.

As we neared the end of the tour we came across the Landport Gate. At this point I turned and said, ‘Wow, wouldn’t this make a great place for a murder.’  He agreed.  And as we were discussing how it might happen, we noticed the other people on the tour (non writers) quickly moving away from us.

Perhaps we should have explained we were plotting for a book!

What places have inspired your writing?


Review: Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham

A quirky, dynamic and utterly unique detective novel

“For Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths, her first murder is a case of jumping in at the deep end – a woman and her six-year-old daughter killed with chilling brutality in a dingy flat.  The only clue: the platinum bank card of a long-dead tycoon, found amidst the squalor – and the rookie DC’s task is to figure out why.

Her boss, DCI Jackson, is confident Fiona is worth her place on the team.  She’s already proved herself whip-smart, resourceful and dedicated to the job.  But there’s another side to her that Fiona is less keen to reveal.  Something to do with a mysterious two-year gap in her CV.  With her strange inability to cry. And a disconcerting familiarity with corpses.

Fiona is desperate to put the past behind her.  But as more gruesome killings follow, the case starts leading her inexorably back into those dark places in her own mind where another dead girl is waiting to be found.  Herself.”

This book is different to any other detective novel I’ve read.  In a good way.  In a very good way.

Fiona Griffiths is a dynamic, smart and highly resourceful DC.  With the story told from her viewpoint, we get a highly personal view of the hunt for the truth about what happened to Janet and April Mancini.  As an early-career DC, Fiona has to fight for her place on the team investigating the murders, and fight (and win) she does.

Whilst Fiona, due to her past, is a rather troubled character, she’s also refreshingly up-beat and energetic to be around.  A bit of a maverick, she often ‘goes the extra mile’ (read: not necessarily following procedure), usually to the irritation of her DCI.  But even while I was cringing, hoping she didn’t get caught doing something ‘off the book’, I couldn’t help admire her for her determination and resolve.  Because for Fiona finding out the truth, and unravelling a mass of seemingly unrelated clues, is critical.

And it’s that drive to find the truth that, as she gets closer, begins to threaten both her safety and her sanity.  As the body-count increases, Fiona stays focused despite the rising danger, and equips herself with the tools she needs to feel in control – even if they’re not exactly standard police issue!

This is a story, and a character, that’ll stay with you long after the book is finished.  Intriguing, terrifying and quirkily fun, this novel will make you miss the train, be late for work, and want to stay in to read a few more chapters rather than party.  And it’ll be worth it.

Highly recommended.

Sunday Shopping for the Book Addict

It’s raining outside, and the lure of the internet and online shopping calls …

But what to buy on this lazy, rainy, Sunday?

Well, after ordering a generous helping of books – pre-reading for the MA course I’m starting in September – I head on over to http://www.literarygiftcompany.com/

The Literary Gift Company site is a gorgeous treasure trove of wonderful (and often rather random) literary related items.

Today, one in particular caught my eye.  This lovely bag featuring a well-known Borges’ quote is eye-catching, cheeky, and also includes a donation to the National Libraries Day cause.  And at £5 it’s a bargain!

Happy Sunday!

Book Review: Speak No Evil by Martyn Waites

A rapid-paced noir crime thriller with twists and turns a-plenty

“Anne Marie Smeaton is back in the hometown she hasn’t seen for forty years, trying to live a normal life with her partner and teenage son.  But that’s impossible for Anne Marie.  Because forty years ago, when she was eleven years old, she did something unspeakable.  Something so horrifying that society has shunned her ever since.

She’s trying to make peace with her past by telling her story to journalist Joe Donovan.  But it’s not that simple.  By dredging up memories she usually keeps repressed, Anne Marie is unleashing old nightmares from the past.  Suffering from horrifying visions, she sometimes does bad things.  Things she has no memory of afterwards.

So when a teenager on her housing estate is murdered and she wakes up with blood on her hands, Anne Marie naturally fears the worst. Desperate, she turns to Donovan for help.  But Joe Donovan might have his own reasons for getting involved.  Reasons which have to do with the disappearance of his son …”

This is a hard-hitting, noir thriller centred around the murder of a child by a child.  It gradually peels back the surface layers of a community, and exposes a more sinister underbelly lurking just beneath the surface.

I found the multiple plotlines within the story highly intriguing: What did Anne Marie do when she was eleven years old, and why did she do it? Where is Donovan’s son, and can he get him back?  What’s the secret that Donovan’s daughter is hiding? Who is responsible for the murders?

Waites uses multiple point-of-views to tell the story, giving the reader a unique perspective on the present day events, and the history that came before them.  From Donovan and his team we see the private investigation, and through Donovan himself the emotional and personal impact of his son’s abduction. While from Anne Marie we discover the situation that drove her to do what she did (and how it still haunts her). The kids on the housing estate show us how life is for them, the unspoken hierarchies of the block and how sometimes life is regarded so cheaply. Then from news-writer Tess Preston we what a big story means to her, and how she’d do anything to get her big break.

Each character feels alarmingly real, and as the story twists and turns towards conclusion we see how each element (and character) links together, like an intricately created web.

An emotive, rapid paced, rollercoaster of a story it grabbed my attention and had me hooked from the very beginning.  Dark, gritty and utterly believable, I devoured this book over a weekend.

Highly recommended.

Writing Prompts: Stalker-ish Lyrics

English: Nancy Wilson of the American rock ban...

English: Nancy Wilson of the American rock band Heart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I drove home from work yesterday, the song ‘Alone Again’ sung by Alyssa Reid featuring P. Reign came on the radio.

I loved the rockalicious version by Heart in 1987. I was in my early teens, and that song was the perfect accompaniment for all my teenage angst!

But last night, as I sang along (don’t tell anyone!), I realised just how stalker-ish those lyrics can sound.

To me, as a budding crime thriller writer, the line:  How will I get you Alone? sounds like a fantastic prompt for a whole lot of story.  How there’s an idea …

What lyrics inspire you to write?

Review: S is for Silence by Sue Grafton

 A real page-turner of a mystery

In July 1953 Violet Sullivan, a local good-time girl living in Serena Station, California, drives off in her brand new Chevy, leaving behind her husband and young daughter, Daisy.  Violet is never seen again.

Thirty-five years later, Daisy wants closure.

Reluctant to open such an old, cold case, Kinsey Millhone agrees to spend five days investigating, believing at first that Violet simply moved on to pastures new.  But a lot of people shared a past with Violet, one that some are still desperate to keep hidden.  And in a town as close-knit as Serena there aren’t many places to hide when things turn vicious …

S is for Silence is the nineteenth novel in Sue Grafton’s “alphabet” series, featuring her female PI, Kinsey Millhone.  The story is told from two points in time: 1953, when Violet goes missing, and 1987 when Kinsey picks up the investigation.

Grafton uses the two time points to great effect – showing the reader what life was like for Violet before her disappearance, the community she lived in, and the things that where troubling her.  She shows Violet through the eyes of different characters, and we see not only the ‘good-time’ aspects of Violet’s life, but also how the web of relationships she’d become entangled in could provide a motive for several people to wish her gone.

With the interconnected 1987 story, the reader is able to see how the years have changed (or not) the characters from 1953, and as the story progresses it becomes clear that several characters aren’t as honest and truthful as they’d like Kinsey to believe. For me, this ‘insider knowledge’ added to the feeling of suspense.

The story moves at a quick pace and I found myself compelled to keep on reading. The element of mystery, of not knowing if Violet (and her little dog) had run away, or if something more sinister had occurred, was key to this.  As a reader, I wanted to figure out the puzzle along with Kinsey. And if something bad had happened to Violet, I wanted to work out who had done it and how.

I found Kinsey Millhone is a sassy, dynamic character. Riding shotgun as she worked the case, and watching her dealing with the situations and people she encounters with her practical, non-nonsense approach, was fun.

This book is not as noir as I would usually read.  But that said, it’s an interesting and cleverly told story that kept me interested and turning the pages right to the end.