CTG Interviews: crime writer William Shaw about #TheBirdwatcher


Today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer William Shaw to the CTG blog. William’s latest book, THE BIRDWATCHER, is out on the 19th May and he’s agreed to let me quiz him all about it …

Your latest crime novel – THE BIRDWATCHER – is out this week. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Having done three in my Breen & Tozer series I thought I’d take a breather. I had this beginning of a book that I wrote ten years ago and a successful author friend kept saying I should go back to it, because he liked it. It was about a child growing up in Northern Ireland, where some of my family are from. I resisted for a while, but then one day I thought, what if that boy grows up into a policeman? And I was off. I’ve never had something where the story just appeared to me in such a satisfying way. When I got to the denouement it was like being a reader, not actually wanting to finish. I was really on the point of tears at the end. Pathetically.

In THE BIRDWATCHER your protagonist, Police Sergeant William South, is a murderer as well as a policeman. What drew you to writing a character who is both killer and justice seeker?

That was the big attraction for this book. How do you write a sympathetic character who has done something very bad? We like complex heroes, don’t we? And everything in recent history tells us that good people are capable of doing bad things in the right circumstances. In fact what William South did turns out not to be that bad at all… but I don’t want to give away why!

How has the way you set out to write THE BIRDWATCHER – a standalone novel – differed from how you approach writing one of your Breen & Tozer series books?

Interesting question. Writing a series taught me that you can – in fact you HAVE TO – create characters without giving that much away about them, because you want them to develop over the arc of the later books. And actually, I really like working out how little I can tell the reader because I think the readers are a part of the creative process. You give them enough stuff for them to be inspired to make up the rest in their imagination. But maybe in a standalone you can’t go QUITE that far. You have to give people a sense of completeness. But it’s only a matter of degree. And in a standalone I think the shape of the book is more important. Everything has to be in it for a reason. A series has to have incompleteness to throw you into the next book.

THE BIRDWATCHER is set on the Kent coast. What was it about this area that attracted you as a writer?

I’m a sucker for Nordic Noir; there’s something about feeling cosy in a hostile natural environment, isn’t there? Much of South Kent has that. It’s not just the landscape that’s hostile. The Kent coast has taken a lot of knocks in the last twenty or thirty years and it’s not an easy place in many ways. I think that makes it interesting. I had a good friend who had their ashes scattered off that beach. With that, the nuclear power station, the derelict boats and the light houses and the cottages, it seems like a really meaningful landscape; it’s a place with a real sense of darkness but also a sense of a escape. And my main character is definitely an escapee.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot the story out first, or dive right in and see where it takes you (or a bit of both)?

I have learned that a one to two page precis is useful so I know where I’m heading, but the best bits of everything I’ve written were always the scenes I didn’t know I was going to write at the beginning. I love the feeling when you write some scene and you’re not sure why it’s there at all, and then 100 pages later you realise that there’s a great reason for it.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals that you perform when starting a new book?

No rituals, just emotions. I’m really against writing being a superstitious process. I think the job is just to write every day, come hell or high water. After the excitement of opening a fresh document on the computer, it’s terror, mostly. A book seems such a large thing. And the fear continues until about three-quarters of the way through. At the start, I do end up buying a lot of books around the subject and – in the case of the Birdwatcher – finding excuses to visit the place. Books about birdwatching, I’ve discovered, are really delightful. It’s a great excuse to consume a lot of non fiction that you wouldn’t normally read.

What advice would you give to writers who are aspiring to publication in crime fiction?

Approach with humility. There are a lot of really great people in the crime writing community who will offer you amazing help and advice as long as you don’t blunder in there thinking you’re God’s gift. You may be God’s gift, of course. Just keep it to yourself. And accept it’s a crowded genre and the only way you’re going to succeed in it is by writing the kind of book you want to read, not the one you think the market wants, because there are plenty of people doing that already. Oh, and develop an iron liver for events like Crimefest and Harrogate Crime Festival.

And, lastly, what does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?

I’m just finishing the fourth Breen and Tozer book, which opens with the death of the Rolling Stone Brian Jones. I’ll be starting a new book over the summer but I don’t know yet what it’s going to be… Which is fairly scary. But my head is deeply into the current book I’m in so it’s hard to know what it’s going to be about.

Big thanks to William for dropping by the CTG blog and letting me quiz him.

THE BIRDWATCHER is out on the 19th May. Here’s the blurb: “Police Sergeant William South has a reason for not wanting to be on the murder investigation. He is a murderer himself. But the victim was his only friend; like him, a passionate birdwatcher. South is warily partnered with the strong-willed Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, newly recruited to the Kent coast from London. Together they find the body, violently beaten, forced inside a wooden chest. Only rage could kill a man like this. South knows it. But soon – too soon – they find a suspect: Donnie Fraser, a drifter from Northern Ireland. His presence in Kent disturbs William – because he knew him as a boy. If the past is catching up with him, South wants to meet it head on. For even as he desperately investigates the connections, he knows there is no crime, however duplicitous or cruel, that can compare to the great lie of his childhood. Moving from the storm-lashed, bird-wheeling skies of the Kent Coast to the wordless war of the Troubles, The Birdwatcher is a crime novel of suspense, intelligence and powerful humanity about fathers and sons, grief and guilt, and facing the darkness within.”

You can buy THE BIRDWATCHER from Waterstones here or Amazon here

Find out more about William Shaw on his website http://williamshaw.com and follow him on Twitter @william1shaw


Last week was all about my Top Crime Reads of the year. This week is all about Thrillers.

Here’s the second (and final) post of my Top Reads 2015: my Top Thriller Reads …


THE DARK INSIDE by Rod Reynolds


“In this town, no one is innocent. 1946, Texarkana: a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas. Disgraced New York reporter Charlie Yates has been sent to cover the story of a spate of brutal murders – young couples who’ve been slaughtered at a local date spot. Charlie finds himself drawn into the case by the beautiful and fiery Lizzie, sister to one of the victims, Alice – the only person to have survived the attacks and seen the killer up close. But Charlie has his own demons to fight, and as he starts to dig into the murders he discovers that the people of Texarkana have secrets that they want kept hidden at all costs. Before long, Charlie discovers that powerful forces might be protecting the killer, and as he investigates further his pursuit of the truth could cost him more than his job …”

This debut novel from the uber-talented Rod Reynolds serves up a perfect slice of American noir. New York reporter Charlie Yates is a damaged man. Haunted by career problems and a failing marriage, he’s alienated many of the people close to him. With his employers desperate to be free of him for a while, he’s sent to cover a spate of double murders in Texarkana. He’s angry and isolated in an unfamiliar and unwelcoming place, but as he starts to make acquaintances with the locals and gets up to speed with the facts of the murders, he realises that the town, and the people in it, are hiding many more secrets than they’re willing to share.

Like a lovechild of Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald, with a smidgeon of Jim Thompson on the side, this is a relentless, dark and gritty tale about a man who cannot let go until he’s uncovered the truth of what is really going on inside the close knit community of Texarkana. Inspired by the true story of the unsolved Texarkana Moonlight Murders, with deeply drawn characters and a vividly claustrophobic atmosphere, THE DARK INSIDE is an utterly engrossing debut and one of my top reads of 2015 – an absolute must-read for all thriller fans.

You can find out more about Rod Reynolds by following him on Twitter @Rod_WR


THE WRONG GIRL by Laura Wilson

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“In 2006, three-year-old Phoebe Piper went missing on a family holiday. Despite massive publicity and a long investigation, no trace of her was ever found. Seven years later, Molly Jackson, aged ten and recently uprooted to a Norfolk village, finds her great uncle Dan dead in his bed. Molly remembers nothing of her early years, but she’s been sure for ages that she is Phoebe. Everything in her life points to it. Dan’s death brings his sister Janice back to Norfolk where she’s re-united with Molly’s mother Suzie, the daughter she gave up for adoption decades earlier. Janice discovers that a former lover, Joe Vincent, lives nearby. Joe was a rock star who, at the height of his fame, turned his back on public life. As she is drawn back into the past, Janice begins to wonder if Dan’s death and Joe’s reputation as a reclusive acid casualty are quite what they appear. And then Molly disappears.”

I found myself pulled headlong into Janice and Molly’s worlds. Through their narratives the reader discovers the events in their pasts that have shaped their sense of selves and identity, and how the secrets and suspicions that they hold influences each of their decisions in the present. One of the many joys of this book are the fabulous characters – they are so vividly drawn, and the dialogue pitch-perfect, that it feels like you’re watching real-life action unfold before you.

A twisting, turning mystery of tangled secrets, guilt and regret THE WRONG GIRL artfully combines the dark undertones of past trauma with a growing sense of impending doom. With stunning writing, vivid characters and bags of suspense, THE WRONG GIRL is a must read for fans of psychological thrillers.

To find out more about Laura Wilson and her books hop on over to www.laura-wilson.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @LWilsonCrime




“He is darkness. She wants him dead. In a city starved of light, she might just succeed. She moves like a shadow; she kills silently: Raven. This elegant assassin has been on the run for years. This time though, she has picked the wrong target. The hitman known only as ‘Victor’ is as paranoid as he is merciless, and is no stranger to being hunted. He tracks his would-be killer across the globe, aiming not only to neutralise the threat, but to discover who wants him dead. The trail leads to New York … And then the lights go out. Over twelve hours of unremitting darkness, Manhattan dissolves into chaos. Amid looting, conspiracy and blackout, Victor and Raven play a vicious game of cat and mouse that the city will never forget.”

In the latest book in this fantastic series – The Darkest Day – Victor finds himself the target of a talented female assassin with a flawless kill record. Rather than going into hiding after escaping her first attempt on his life, Victor vows to eliminate her as a threat. Alternately threatening or charming information from Raven’s associates, Victor discovers her background and tracks her to a safe house in New York. The clues stack up, and he has everything planned in perfect detail to neutralise her. Then the power goes out in New York City and everything he was so sure about starts to become hazy.

The pace is unrelenting, the danger ever escalating, and Victor is forced to abandon his usual preparations and safe-guards in order to keep out of his pursuers’ – both legal and criminal – way. It’s fascinating to see this character, who is always so in control, plunged into a sustained environment of chaos and having to react to a far more unpredictable set of circumstances than before. Action packed, adrenaline fuelled, thriller writing at its best – THE DARKEST DAY is a must read for all crime thriller fans.

And find out more about Tom Wood and the Victor the Assassin series by hopping over to his website at www.tomwoodbooks.com and following him on Twitter @TheTomWood


COLD MOON by Alexandra Sokoloff


“The hunt for mass murderer Cara Lindstrom is over. FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke has been working for this moment: the capture of a killer who savagely hunts the worst of humanity. But Roarke remains traumatized by his own near-death at the hands of the serial killer who slaughtered Cara’s family…and haunted by the enigmatic woman who saved his life. Then the sixteen-year-old prostitute who witnessed Cara’s most recent murder goes missing, and suddenly pimps are turning up dead on the streets of San Francisco, killed with an MO eerily similar to Cara’s handiwork. Is a new killer on the loose with a mission even more deadly than hers? In the pulse-pounding third Huntress/FBI Thrillers book, Roarke will have to go on the hunt…and every woman he meets, even those closest to him, may prove deadly.”

COLD MOON is a serial killer story with a difference – this killer is female. Driven by the need to confront ‘It’ – evil – Cara Lindstrom targets those in society who prey on the innocent and the helpless. The story starts with her awaiting trial for murder, but it soon becomes clear that she may not be the only person fighting back against those men who prey on vulnerable women. Detective Roarke – the man responsible for Cara being in jail – is conflicted about the upcoming trial. On the one side he knows Cara is a killer, on the other he is becoming increasingly sympathetic to her cause. And he cannot deny that he’s attracted to her either.

Set in California, COLD MOON shows the glamour and the grime, the privileged (and those who abuse that privilege) and the disadvantaged. It’s highly atmospheric, with compelling, dynamic characters and vivid, rapid-paced action. With super-charged tension and nail biting suspense, this is a real page turner of a read.

To find out more about Alexandra Sokoloff hop over to her website at www.alexandrasokoloff.com and follow her on Twitter @AlexSokoloff


THE SAMARITAN by Mason Cross

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“When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered in the Santa Monica Mountains, LAPD Detective Jessica Allen knows she’s seen this MO before – two and a half years ago on the other side of the country. A sadistic serial killer has been operating undetected for a decade, preying on lone female drivers who have broken down. The press dub the killer ‘The Samaritan’, but with no leads and a killer who leaves no traces, the police investigation quickly grinds to a halt. That’s when Carter Blake shows up to volunteer his services. He’s a skilled manhunter with an uncanny ability to predict the Samaritan’s next moves. At first, Allen and her colleagues are suspicious. After all, their new ally shares some uncomfortable similarities to the man they’re tracking. But as the Samaritan takes his slaughter to the next level, Blake must find a way to stop him … even if it means bringing his own past crashing down on top of him.”

The Samaritan is packed with all the trademark heart-stopping action, break-neck pace, and twisting-turning plotlines that made Mason’s debut novel – The Killing Season – such a huge success.

In The Samaritan we also get to find out more about the past of mysterious ‘people finder’ Carter Blake (although don’t worry, he’s still pretty damn mysterious!). Jessica Allen is a great female lead – strong, determined and courageous in the face of extreme danger. She reluctantly accepts Blake’s assistance, but is less inclined to completely trust him. As they each follow their own lines of enquiry, gradually closing in on this most brutally sadistic of serial killers, they both become targets.

Set in Florida and California, The Samaritan showcases some great locations (including one very creepy and atmospheric one that I can’t mention – sorry, it’d be too much of a spoiler) to create a vivid backdrop to the story. With great characters, fab locations and a super-twisty plot, The Samaritan is an absolute page-turner. I already can’t wait for the next Carter Blake novel – I think this is a series that’s going to run and run.

To find out more about Mason Cross head over to his website at www.masoncross.net and follow him on Twitter @MasonCrossBooks




“Stella is an escort, immersed in a world of desire, betrayal and secrets. It’s exactly where she wants to be. Stella used to be someone else: respectable, loved, safe. But one mistake changed all that.

When a fellow call girl is murdered, Stella has a choice: forget what she’s seen, or risk everything to get justice for her friend. In her line of work, she’s never far from the edge, but pursuing the truth could take her past the point of no return. Nothing is off limits. Not for her – and not for them. But is anyone truly untouchable?”

Stella (real name, Grace) is an escort by choice. She enjoys her job and the financial freedoms it brings, although she does sometimes wonder if she’ll ever be able to stop. That all changes when another high-end escort she recently worked with is murdered. Suddenly she’s feeling on edge with even her regular clients. Unwilling to believe the Police’s version of events, and plagued by the feeling that her friend was killed for something she knew rather than who she was, Stella can’t move on. Taking matters into her own hands, she sets out on her own search for the truth, but as she begins to get closer to finding the identity of the killer it becomes clear that her quest could have deadly consequences.

Unflinchingly authentic, this thriller gives a peep into the world of a high-class escort, from the clients and the money, to the drama and tension the profession causes in their personal relationships [but beware, if you don’t want to read graphic sex scenes, this book might not be your thing!]. It’s a real page-turner of a read – darkly funny at times, heart-breaking at others – with a riveting mystery at its heart. As pacey as Lee Child, racier than EL James, and utterly gripping – Untouchable is unmissable!

To find out more about Ava Marsh pop over to her website at www.avamarsh.co.uk and be sure to follow her on Twitter @MsAvaMarsh




“A brutal murder. A lone female investigator. Two hundred metres below the ocean’s surface, the pressure is rising … Suicide must be investigated, especially when a Royal Navy sailor kills himself on a nuclear submarine only days after his wife’s brutal murder. Now Lieutenant Danielle “Dan” Lewis, the Navy’s finest Special Branch investigator, must interrogate the tight-knit, male crew of HMS Tenacity to determine if there’s a link. Isolated, and standing alone in the face of extreme hostility, Dan soon realises that she may have to choose between the truth and her own survival. Justice must be served, but with a possible killer on board the pressure is rising and her time is running out …”

This debut novel from J.S. Law is a tense read from start to finish. Danielle “Dan” Lewis – a top investigator with more than a fair share of secrets hidden in her past – is brought in to investigate the alleged suicide of a member of HMS Tenacity’s Ship’s Company. Right from the get-go it’s clear that the odds are stacked against her – Tenacity’s men are a close-knit team and they don’t want anyone – especially a woman – poking around in their business.

Like the novel’s title suggests, Dan is a tenacious lead character and someone that, as a reader, I found it easy to root for. She’s a survivor of injustice, using her own experiences as fire to fuel her unrelenting determination to achieve her goal – utterly focused on searching out the truth, even when it puts her own life in danger.

As an ex-submariner, author J.S. Law’s detailed knowledge of the Navy and submarines shines through to make for a highly authentic and atmospheric setting. The uniqueness of the tightly sealed environment of HMS Tenacity is made increasingly claustrophobic through the ever-increasing build-up of jeopardy. Gritty, super-charged with tension and claustrophobically atmospheric, TENACITY is a real page-turner of a read.

To learn more about JS Law go over to his website at www.jslawbooks.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @JSLawBooks




“HE’S WATCHING HER. SHE DOESN’T KNOW IT…YET. When a bomb explodes at the University of Amsterdam, aspiring criminologist Georgina McKenzie is asked by the police to help flush out the killer. But the bomb is part of a much bigger, more sinister plot that will have the entire city quaking in fear. And the killer has a very special part for George to play…”

This fast paced thriller is Marnie Riches debut novel and the first book in the Georgina McKenzie series. Opening with a bombing on campus at the University of Amsterdam, the stakes are high from the off and continue to escalate as criminology student, Georgina ‘George’ McKenzie gets drafted in to help the police, and specifically Detective van den Bergen, gather intelligence from within the student and wider communities. Experienced cop – Detective van den Bergen – is a great pairing for George. Whereas she is headstrong and prone to charge into a situation, he is analytical and considered (and a bit of a hypochondriac) – but both are determined and single-minded about the need to get to the truth behind the killings and bring those responsible to justice, and they’re not afraid to go against direct orders to achieve their goal.

Bold and fearless, George is quick to piece together the evidence, and gets frustrated by the slowness of the police. As the stakes escalate, and the danger draws closer, she takes increasingly bigger risks – putting herself (and her friends) in danger. One of those friends is Ad – who George enlists to help her check out the evidence and run her own investigation. Between them they’re often a few steps ahead of the Police and end up feeding information to van den Bergen. The story hurtles along at a breakneck pace as George and Ad track their suspects across Holland and Germany, and it seems sure that they’ll soon have the killer. But George is hiding a secret past, and as the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her, she realizes she’s going to need all her street smarts to foil the killer and keep her friends, and herself, alive. A nail-biting, seat-of-your-pants read – The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is a great read for those who love action thrillers and fabulous introduction to a great new series.

You can find out more about Marnie Riches and her books by hopping over to www.marnieriches.com and following her on Twitter @Marnie_Riches




“Claymore Straker is trying to forget a violent past. Working as an oil company engineer in the wilds of Yemen, he is hijacked at gunpoint by Islamic terrorists. Clay has a choice: help uncover the cause of a mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company’s processing facility, or watch Abdulkader, his driver and close friend, die. As the country descends into civil war and village children start dying, Clay finds himself caught up in a ruthless struggle between opposing armies, controllers of the country’s oil wealth, Yemen’s shadowy secret service, and rival terrorist factions. As Clay scrambles to keep his friend alive, he meets Rania, a troubled journalist. Together, they try to uncover the truth about Al Urush. But nothing in this ancient, unforgiving place is what it seems. Accused of a murder he did not commit, put on the CIA’s most-wanted list, Clay must come to terms with his past and confront the powerful forces that want him dead.”

This epic story is a spell binding read. Highly atmospheric, it feels grounded in the Yemen landscape, with the tension of a country on the brink of civil war sparking from every page. Rugged and resourceful, Claymore ‘Clay’ Straker has an incredible personal journey from “company man”, there to do a job – no more, no less – to smooth the way with the local people and get the oil company closer to their profit targets, into a dynamic eco-warrior, determined to get to the truth of what’s really causing the children in Al Urush to become so sick, and to put a stop to it – whatever the personal cost.

THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING is a thought provoking and heart wrenching book. It exposes the horrors some are willing to inflict in pursuit of riches, it shows the lengths others will go to in order to stop them, and it highlights the scars and wounds left both in the earth and on flesh as a consequence. This emotive subject, combined with fabulous writing, a great cast of characters, and a super-fast pace makes it a must read thriller and a stunning debut.

To find out more head to the Orenda Books website at www.orendabooks.co.uk/paul-e-hardisty and follow Paul on Twitter @Hardisty_Paul


I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh


“In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever. Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating …”

Opening with a hit-and-run incident which leaves a five-year-old boy dead, this hard-hitting psychological thriller grabs you by the heart and keeps you captive until the very last page.

Jenna has left everything behind to make a new life for herself in Wales. At first she stays inside the remote cottage she’s rented, not engaging with the community, and reliving the horror she’s been through, unable to see a way through her grief. But as the months pass, she gradually begins to forge tentative relationships and starts to believe that perhaps it is possible to continue living. That’s the moment the past catches up with her with terrifying consequences.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Ray Stevens hasn’t given up on getting justice for the little boy killed in the hit-and-run. Although his superior officers have told him to move onto other cases, and his wife is getting increasingly irritated by his lack of support in helping resolve the problems their son is having at school, he continues to work the case supported by Kate, the newest Detective Constable in his team. As his home life becomes tenser, and the case remains a mystery, Ray and Kate get increasingly closer as they spend more and more time investigating the details in secret.

With brilliantly drawn characters, and a hard-hitting emotional core to the story, this is a truly gripping novel. From the hauntingly atmospheric winter at a Welsh seaside town, to the claustrophobic terror of Jenna’s inner demons, and the tenacious determination of Ray and Kate to bring justice to a case no matter how long it might take, this is a thought-provoking book. Beautifully written, and with a twist that will have you gasping out loud (it did me!) I Let You Go is an utterly compulsive read, and one that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.

You can find out more about Clare Mackintosh by hopping over to her website at http://claremackintosh.com/ and following her on Twitter @claremackint0sh






Guest Post: Why I Love ‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’ (Learning storytelling from the masters) by V.M. Giambanco


Today I’m handing over the reins of the CTG blog to crime writer V.M. Giambanco who’s talking about how she learnt storytelling from the masters …

Telling stories is a dizzying business. When an idea begins to find its legs and pulls the writer into unknown territory with a wink and a shove, it is always possible to see that energy on paper, the sheer joy that went into the construction of that story.

If someone is interested in writing – let alone crime fiction writing, which lives and dies in the layering of action, information and resolution – it is crucial to understand and relish how stories come together.

I have always been intrigued by storytelling and before I wrote ‘The Gift Of Darkness’, the first book in the Alice Madison series, I worked for many years in film editing and was involved in all kinds of projects, from romantic comedies to Mafia thrillers and Bollywood-style musicals, and I have always been keen to see how different elements fit together – or perhaps how they don’t fit together at all. Yes, I’ve been involved in some pretty awful pictures too.

These are some of my favourite examples of storytelling and any aspiring crime-writer could do a lot worse than look at these different films, take them apart and put them back together. They might not necessarily be crime-related but some particular elements make them relevant and significant.

‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’are masterpieces in the building of suspense around an unseen enemy who takes innocent lives – a kind of serial killer, if you will, and that’s definitely a familiar type of device in crime fiction.

Both films have unusual heroes: the first, a cop who is afraid of water; the second, a woman pushed into leadership by extreme circumstances. The tone of the stories is very different: ‘Jaws’ has a lighter atmosphere with humour and moments of comedy while ‘Alien’ is relentlessly grim, and even in the early parts of the film – when all the characters are still alive – there is the constant, claustrophobic feeling that they are surrounded by an environment that is just waiting to kill them. Outer space after all is the ultimate psychopath: fascinating and lethal.

Two small gems in terms of building tension are the scene when Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is looking for the xenomorph in the air-ducts in ‘Alien’ and the scene when Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) reacts to viewing the remains of the first victim in ‘Jaws’.

By the way, we never see those remains: instead we are left with the impression of something so awful, so upsetting that even a capable scientist like Hooper is left choking and gasping for a glass of water. Both films are cunning in the art of withholding information and letting us imagine the worst – believe it or not, the Alien was on screen for less than four minutes in total; second for second it was better value than Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ who’s on screen for just under sixteen minutes.

Point in question, when Ridley Scott was casting the part of Brett he told Harry Dean Stanton that ‘Alien’ was ‘Ten Little Indians’ in space. Stanton took the part and was rewarded with an unforgettable scene.

It is a well-known fact that Steven Spielberg took ‘Jaws’, written by Peter Benchley, and re-worked it extensively: gone are the sub-plots about the affair between Hooper and Ellen Brody (the hero-cop’s wife) and about the Mayor involvement with the Mafia.

The story in the film is utterly streamlined but it manages to create fully shaded characters using quiet scenes in the middle of the inexorable hunt – moments like Brody at dinner with his son and Quint telling the story of the USS Indianapolis, a ship in WW2 which sank after delivering the nuclear bomb and whose crew was mostly killed by sharks in open water.

The skill of the writers (Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb) and the director is that they give us unflagging pace and yet we have characters that feel real, not just a jumble of clichés waiting for the next set piece.

There are a number of devices in the ending of ‘Alien’ – like failing to abort the self-destruct sequence and the reappearance of the ‘villain’ when all seems safe – however Ridley Scott was at the top of his game and even those clichés miraculously work in a nerve-racking last few minutes.

After all these years I still love ‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’ because they grab me by the lapels and keep me hooked, and that’s what great storytelling does, whatever the medium. Crime fiction should definitely grab you by the lapels and give you a good shake – the shark is optional.

Huge thanks to V.M. Giambanco for stopping by the CTG blog today and talking to us about how she has learnt from the masters.

The third book in her Alice Madison series – BLOOD AND BONE – is out now. Here’s the blurb: “After two years in the Seattle Police Department, Detective Alice Madison has finally found the kind of personal and professional peace she has never known before.

When a local burglary escalates into a horrific murder, Madison is put in charge of the investigation. She finds herself tracking a killer who may have haunted the city for years – and whose brutality is the stuff of myth in high security prisons.

As she delves deeper into the case, Madison learns that the widow of one of the victims is being stalked – is the killer poised to strike again? But then her own past comes under scrutiny from enemies close to home, and Madison’s position on the force – and the fate of the case itself – are suddenly thrown in jeopardy.”

To find out more about V.M. Giambanco and her books hop over to her website at www.vmgiambanco.com and follow her on Twitter @vm_giambanco 

And you can buy BLOOD AND BONE from Amazon by following this link

Guest Post: Author Sinéad Crowley talks about writing a Cop Duo #AreYouWatchingMe


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Today I’m delighted to hand over the reins of the CTG blog to Sinéad Crowley. Sinéad’s debut thriller – CAN ANYBODY HELP ME? – was a bestseller in Ireland and shortlisted for Crime Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2014. Her second novel – ARE YOU WATCHING ME? – is published this week and is another gripping read. So, over to Sinéad …

Good cop – better cop?

I didn’t set out to write a classic ‘cop duo’ story. Mind you – I didn’t set out to write a police procedural either – whoops! My first book, ‘Can Anybody Help Me?’ looked at the relationships between women on an internet parenting forum, and my original idea was to have the central character, a young woman called Yvonne, solve the mystery herself. But Yvonne was a new mother and quite a shy person, living in a new country and feeling, at times, totally overwhelmed. It wouldn’t have made sense to have her leap away from the computer, Nancy Drew style and start solving crimes. So, I needed a copper. And to keep things simple for myself – write what you know, eh? – I made her a woman. A pregnant woman, at that, who ended up falling into the internet parenting world herself.  Even at that stage, however, Claire was a background character, a means to an end, until my lovely and very astute agent read an early draft of the book and asked if she could she brought more centre stage. My agent, of course had her eye on a sequel – see what I mean by astute? – but she also saw something in Claire that I hadn’t fully recognised. A spark, something different. That indefinable thing that editors and agents look for and writers often don’t realise they have created at all.

So, I wrote more about Claire, and found myself warming to her. She’s a fascinating character to work with, not always likeable, but that’s part of the fun! Meanwhile, as I was writing her opening chapter, Philip Flynn walked into the room, completely unannounced. There was no need for him to be there at all. Claire was sitting in her office, moaning about feeling fat and hungry and all that needed to happen was that somebody had to give her a piece of information. It could have come via phone call or email, the method of passing it on was no big deal. But as I scribbled away in my usual ‘first draft’ style – throwing ideas down on the page in the hope that they would make sense later – in walked Philip Flynn to deliver the information in person. Philip, never Phil, a young ambitious guard with a neat haircut and an overly formal manner. When I looked up I realised I had written two paragraphs about this man who didn’t really have a part in my story at all. But I liked him, and he stayed.

So there I was, with a police procedural on my hands and two police characters who seemed, on the surface, to be like a thousand other police duos. One male, one female. One junior, one senior. One determined to play everything by the book, the other fully prepared to ‘go rogue’ to get what she wanted. But that’s where it got interesting, for me anyway. What SHE wanted. It was Claire who was the older, more experienced cop, and it was she who was prepared to do whatever it took to solve the crime. Even if that meant going against medical advice. Flynn meanwhile stuck to the rules, and concentrated on what he thought of as ‘real policing’. The questions and the answers, the door to door stuff. None of that internet malarkey. As a duo, they made sense.

Returning to them while writing ‘Are You Watching Me?’ was lovely. I won’t pretend writing a second book was easy, everything you’ve heard about ‘Second Book Syndrome’ is true. But revisiting Claire and Flynn was a joy. I really wanted to catch up with them, to find out how life had been in the six months or so since we’d last met. Claire of course is a mother now and finding out just how interesting life can be when your newest family member has a habit of yelling at you at three am. And Flynn has grown in confidence, both in his work and his personal life. One major murder investigation later, they have grown to trust each other and can bounce ideas off each other, and there’s a really useful professional relationship there now. They have each other’s backs. They’re not friends, not yet. But they are getting there. That might just be a job for Book Three…

Huge thanks to Sinéad Crowley for taking over the reins of the CTG blog today and telling us all about writing a duo. Her fabulous second novel – ARE YOU WATCHING ME? – is out this week.

To give you a taste of it, here’s the blurb: “Liz Cafferky is on the up. Rescued from her dark past by the owner of a drop-in centre for older men, Liz soon finds herself as the charity’s face – and the unwilling darling of the Dublin media. Amidst her claustophobic fame, Liz barely notices a letter from a new fan. But then one of the centre’s clients is brutally murdered, and Elizabeth receives another, more sinister note. Running from her ghosts, Liz is too scared to go to the police. And with no leads, there is little Sergeant Claire Boyle can do to protect her …”

To find out more about Sinéad and her books, hop on over to her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cananybodyhelpme and be sure to follow her on Twitter @SCrowleyAuthor


CTG Reviews: THE WRONG GIRL by Laura Wilson

THE WRONG GIRL cover image

THE WRONG GIRL cover image

What the blurb says: “In 2006, three-year-old Phoebe Piper went missing on a family holiday. Despite massive publicity and a long investigation, no trace of her was ever found. Seven years later, Molly Jackson, aged ten and recently uprooted to a Norfolk village, finds her great uncle Dan dead in his bed. Molly remembers nothing of her early years, but she’s been sure for ages that she is Phoebe. Everything in her life points to it.

Dan’s death brings his sister Janice back to Norfolk where she’s re-united with Molly’s mother Suzie, the daughter she gave up for adoption decades earlier. Janice discovers that a former lover, Joe Vincent, lives nearby. Joe was a rock star who, at the height of his fame, turned his back on public life. As she is drawn back into the past, Janice begins to wonder if Dan’s death and Joe’s reputation as a reclusive acid casualty are quite what they appear. And then Molly disappears.”


Janice – still in shock from the sudden death of her brother, and thrust unprepared into meeting her long lost daughter who she has always yearned to connect with – returns to Norfolk to her family home. It’s a place that holds many memories for her, not all of them good. It’s here that she meets Suzie – her daughter – and Molly – her grand-daughter – and tries to forge a relationship with both of them. But it’s not easy, and as the memories of the past mingle with the reality of her brother’s death, Janice begins to wonder if something, or someone, more sinister is at work.

I found myself pulled headlong into Janice and Molly’s worlds. Through their narratives the reader discovers the events in their pasts that have shaped their sense of selves and identity, and how the secrets and suspicions that they hold influences each of their decisions in the present. One of the many joys of this book are the fabulous characters – they are so vividly drawn, and the dialogue pitch-perfect, that it feels like you’re watching real-life action unfold before you.

A twisting, turning mystery of tangled secrets, guilt and regret THE WRONG GIRL artfully combines the dark undertones of past trauma with a growing sense of impending doom, and had me captivated from the first page to the last.

With stunning writing, vivid characters and bags of suspense, THE WRONG GIRL is a must read for fans of psychological thrillers – highly recommended.


To find out more about Laura Wilson and her books hop on over to www.laura-wilson.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @LWilsonCrime




CTG Reviews: Can Anybody Help Me? By Sinead Crowley

Can Anybody Help Me? cover image

Can Anybody Help Me? cover image

What the blurb says: “It was crazy really, she had never met the woman, had no idea of her real name but she thought of her as a friend. Or, at least, the closest thing she had to a friend in Dublin. Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.
When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman? But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?”

Feeling out of her depth and isolated at home with her new baby, the netmammy online forum is a lifeline for Yvonne. On the forum she connects and becomes friends with other mums, sharing secrets and worries – things they’d never tell their families or admit to real world friends – and getting advice and support. But when one of her closer ‘friends’ disappears, and a woman matching her description is found dead, Yvonne starts to suspect that there may be something more sinister going on and tries to find out the true identity of the person she only knows as MyBabba.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Claire Boyle is grappling with own pregnancy. Her husband, Matt, wants her to slow down, but she’s determined to find the killer of the murdered young woman before she goes on maternity leave. But the case takes her out of her comfort zone, both physically and online, and forces her to confront her own fears as the danger gets closer than she’d ever have imagined. She’s a courageous, determined and resourceful investigator, and a very human character – trying to balance her personal relationships and her career ambitions, and not always managing too, to the detriment of her own health.

This fast-paced psychological thriller is a real page-turner of a read. The online forum interactions interspersed into the narrative are unusual and intriguing, and it’s very easy to see how Yvonne quickly becomes immersed into the online netmammy world. The story shows a shadowy side to social media and how the information we share about ourselves online can be used against us to devastating effect.

Recommended for fans of psychological thrillers and police procedurals alike.

[with thanks to Quercus for my copy of Can Anybody Help Me?]

Event Alert: Peter May at Waterstones Piccadilly on 27th January 2015

Runaway cover image

Runaway cover image

On Tuesday 27th January 2015 Peter May, author of the best selling Lewis Trilogy and the fabulous standalone Entry Island, is going to be visiting Waterstones Piccadilly to talk about his new standalone novel RUNAWAY. Sounds like it’s going to be a great evening.

Here are the details …

PETER MAY talking with Barry Forshaw (crime reviewer for the Financial Times)

Venue: WATERSTONES PICCADILLY – 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD

Tickets: £5/£3

Tel for tickets: 020 78512400  Website: http://www.waterstones.com/events

And a bit more about RUNAWAY …

What the blurb says: “The decision for five teenage boys to leave their homes in Glasgow in 1965 and head to London is led by Jack Mackay when he is expelled from school. His friends need little incentive to run away from their abusive families and dead end jobs to pursue fame and fortune as a band. However, the boys find their dreams to be devastatingly different from reality, and within less than twelve months of their departure, only three of them return home, their lives irrevocably damaged.

Fifty years later in 2015 a brutal murder takes place in London and the three men, who are now in their sixties, are forced to return to the city to confront the demons which have haunted them and blighted their lives for five decades.”

CTG Reviews: SACRIFICE by Max Kinnings

Sacrifice cover image

Sacrifice cover image

What the blurb says: “Disgraced hedge fund manager Graham Poynter hides shamefully in his Belgravia mansion. He lied, he cheated and he stole but the police and legal authorities are the least of his worries. Poynter and his family have come to the attention of a new style of hacktivist. The Adversary – or Advo – believes that non-violence only works up to a point and as Thomas Jefferson said, “Sometimes the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Jefferson might have added, “and bankers” …

Advo intends to make an example of Poynter as a warning to others in the banking industry who might think they can behave as he has done. The only person who stands between Poynter and his grisly destiny is blind hostage negotiator, Ed Malloy, who must negotiate with a faceless adversary who is hell-bent on exacting retribution on a minority which has gone unpunished for too long.”

Ed Malloy is having a bad day when he’s called to lead the negotiation at Graham Poynter’s Belgravia mansion. But things are about to get a whole lot worse, the situation is unlike any other Ed has faced. The hostage taker doesn’t fit the usual profile or follow the pattern of behaviour Ed would have expected. They make no demands, remain calm, and seem to be waiting for something. Ed is convinced there is another person manipulating events. But as tensions rise both at Graham Poynter’s mansion and inside the negotiating team, Ed struggles to find an approach that will bring the situation to a successful conclusion.

This book has a high concept, contemporary feel, with the story played out against a backdrop of underhanded banking practices, and the rise of a new style of ‘hacktivist’. If anything I’d have liked for the ‘hacktivist’ aspect of the plot to be explored in more detail, although I suspect that a future book in the Ed Malloy series may do just that.

And the story doesn’t hang around. It’s a fast paced, cinematic thriller. The tension starts high and doesn’t wane as the story unfolds. Through rotating point-of-view characters, including Graham Poynter’s daughter, Lily, his business partner, Bob Rushwood, and the hostage taker, more information is revealed to the reader than Ed is aware of. This adds an extra layer of tension and increases the suspense.

A non-stop rollercoaster ride from start to finish.

Highly recommended.


[With many thanks to Quercus for my copy of SACRIFICE]

CTG Reviews: Entry Island by Peter May

Entry Island cover image

Entry Island cover image

What the blurb says: “Detective Sime MacKenzie’s life in Montreal is one of loneliness and regret. And so when he is assigned to a seemingly open-and-shut murder case on a remote island 850 miles from the Canadian mainland, he departs readily. But Sime’s time away will be anything but a holiday. And Entry Island will prove anything but a haven. Sime may have left his domestic demons behind, but waiting for him in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is a far darker destiny.”

Entry Island is a standalone novel from Peter May, the award-winning author behind the highly acclaimed Lewis trilogy.

It starts with the murder of a wealthy businessman at his home. The number one suspect: his wife. She’s also the only witness. But when Detective Sime MacKenzie and the eight-strong team of detectives and crime scene investigators reach Entry Island they find that the case may not be as easy to solve as their leader, Lieutenant Crozes, had hoped.

Sime is the odd one out. He’s the only native English speaker within the French speaking team, and has only joined them for this case due to the principle language of Entry Island being English rather than French. With unresolved tensions between him and his ex-wife, Marie-Ange – the team’s forensic expert – the atmosphere is far from comfortable. What’s more, Sime finds himself inexplicably drawn to the widow of the murdered man, and is unable to fight the feeling that somehow he knows her.

As the investigation gets underway, Sime finds that the insomnia he’s been suffering since his marriage break-up is getting worse. Now, in the few minutes sleep he is able to snatch, he recalls the vivid stories his Grandmother told him of his ancestors: crofters who had lived on the Isle of Lewis, who were removed from their homes during the brutal ‘clearings’ initiated by greedy landlords who wanted to replace them with sheep, and forced onto boats to ‘the new world’.

The descriptions of the two main locations: the modern-day Entry Island, and the historical look-back at the Isle of Lewis, really bring the settings to life. They conjure up strong images of the geography, the close-knit communities and their cultures. For Sime, the past and the present are strangely linked, and as the story progresses, connections and similarities between his own family history and that of the prime suspect emerge.

For me, this novel was a real treat. I loved the sleep-deprived, conflicted, and often confused character of Sime for his determination to get to the truth no matter who, or what, was pressuring him to finish the investigation fast. Often battling his inner monologue as much as his colleagues, he follows every lead no matter now unlikely, even when it puts him in personal danger.

The author artfully weaves the modern day investigation and the historical story of Sime’s ancestors together, hinting at connections between the two but never quite revealing the implications of the past on the present until the final resolution.

A hauntingly compelling, highly atmospheric read.

Highly Recommended.

[With many thanks to Quercus for my copy of ENTRY ISLAND]

CTG Interviews: Peter May author of the Lewis Trilogy and new standalone Entry Island

Peter May

Peter May

I’m delighted to be joined on the CTG blog today by Peter May, author of the fabulous Lewis Trilogy,  whose new book ENTRY ISLAND is out this month.

So, first question, as well as writing the award winning Lewis Trilogy, you’ve had successful careers as a journalist and a television and screenwriter. What was it that attracted you to becoming a novelist?

I always wanted to be a novelist – since I wrote my first book at the age of four!  My parents taught me to read and write before I went to school and the first thing I did was write a story, and with my mum’s help sewed the pages together to make a book.  (You can see the result on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTxOEfwclh0 )  Journalism was my way of trying to make a living as a writer, since jobs as novelists were not exactly thick on the ground.  Journalism led me into television, and a lucrative career as a scriptwriter, editor and then producer.  But I quit all that (including the income) in the mid-nineties to try, finally, to make my living writing books.  And, well…  I’m still here.

Your new book, Entry Island, is just out. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Entry Island is a story that takes place in two time frames – contemporary and historical.  The contemporary element is set in Quebec, Canada, and more specifically the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  A detective, Sime Mackenzie, from Montreal is sent with an investigation team to the tiny Entry Island – the only English-speaking island in the Magdalen archipelago – following the murder of its wealthiest resident.  But on arrival he finds that the victim’s wife, and prime suspect in his murder, is unaccountably familiar to him, even although they have never met.  The historical story is told through dreams and recollections of diary entries read to the detective by his grandmother when he was a child.  It tells the tale of a young man (whose name Sime shares) growing up in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland in the 19th century at the time of the Highland Clearances, when tens of thousands of people were driven out of their homes and forced on to boats for the New World.  When the young man and his family are brutally evicted, he finds himself on a boat bound for Quebec.  At a certain point both stories converge and the link between them, along with a resolution to the Entry Island murder, is revealed.

Your books always have a fabulous sense of place about them, what’s your secret to creating this?

Many of my early writing experiences, from the start of my teens on, were screenplays of movies I wanted to make.  I always had a very visual sense of storytelling, and when I began to realise that I didn’t need a multi-million pound budget and a film crew to tell those stories, I took that visual sense with me into the writing of my books.  Basically, I described the pictures in my head.  I went to all those places in my mind and wanted to take the reader there with me, to experience them as real.  Not just visually, but sensually as well.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process: do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

I spend four to five months developing and researching an idea.  Then I brainstorm for a week and write a very detailed storyline that runs anything up to 20,000 words.  From there I set myself a very disciplined schedule, rising at 6am and writing 3000 words a day.  The book is finished within six to eight weeks.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?

Write about what you know.  And remember that no matter how clever your story, readers won’t get involved unless they care about the characters.  Don’t be put off by rejection.  It happens to all of us.  After all, “The Blackhouse” was rejected by every major publisher in the UK, and the Lewis Trilogy has now sold more than a million copies.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

A crazy year lies ahead.  I am in the research and development phase of a new book, which I hope to write in the late spring.  I have books tours in the UK and France, and the USA at the end of the year.  I will be at festivals in Harrowgate, Edinburgh and Bloody Scotland, and in this Scottish Homecoming year, VisitScotland are keen to use my books as a magnet for foreign visitors to Scotland.  A visit to Canada might also be in the offing.

Sounds like 2014 is going to be hectic! A huge thank you to Peter for dropping by the CTG blog. 

[Stop by on Friday to read my review of the fabulous ENTRY ISLAND]